Dear Aunty B,
I am distraught. I started a recruitment company four years ago and for the first few years it struggled, but I went out of my way to pay my sidekick a big salary (I paid myself a third of what she was getting for the first two years!)
But several weeks ago she told me she was leaving to go to a competitor. I let her work out her last few weeks and now I am worried she might have spent that time undermining the business.
My business partner thinks I have been stupid and keeps telling me that I should have marched her out as soon as she resigned. However when I raised my concerns with her, she assured me she would never steal clients or take confidential information with her. She also signed a standard employment letter when she joined which stipulated she was not to take confidential information with her. She never signed a restraint of trade letter though.
She has always been very trustworthy so I went against my business partner’s advice and asked her to work out her contract.
Now I think my business partner is right.
Should I have marched her out? What is my protection?
Oh you poor thing. You are feeling betrayed – and rightly so. And this is muddling your thinking. Now take a deep breath because everything is going to be fine!
If you have built the business to this level, then I am sure you are a good judge of character. And if you think the Betrayer is trustworthy, then you are probably right.
Feeling a bit more calm? Then good. Because now you can go and tell your business partner to stick it! This is a time you need support, not some annoying business partner meddling in your decision making and undermining you when you need some support.
And you can remind your business partner that you have the law on your side.
Common law prevents your staff from disclosing a company’s confidential information. And this covers a wide range of things from client lists to marketing strategies. Yes, this protection leaves the moment they walk out the door, but if you can find any proof that the staff member was knicking stuff, you can threaten them.
Of course you should have made your staff member sign a restraint of trade letter ensuring they do not work in the same city or take clients etc, but you know that now so I won’t stick the boot in.
Maybe what you could do now is get your lawyer to send her a letter just reminding her that she did sign the original letter and outlining the obligations.
If you are feeling uneasy, send a letter to the Betrayer reminding her that she did sign that letter and you will take action.
Then go and book yourself in for a massage and stop worrying. You will have great spies if you are in the recruitment business, and you will know soon enough if she is going to betray you.
If anyone else has any advice for our Tassie friend, send it in.
Oh and for next time…
- Have labels or passwords on commercially sensitive information.
- Restrict access, for example secure storage in a designated area.
- Tell staff which information is confidential and that restrictions apply to its use or disclosure.
- Make sure all diaries and mobile phones are company property, returnable when staff leave.
- Make sure your employment contracts refer to confidential information and include an individually tailored restraint of trade clause.
- Get contractors to sign a confidentiality deed.
- Have a formal policy on use of confidential information, including its use at employees’ homes.
- Maintain contact with your customers.
Source: Paul Kirton, principal, macpherson+kelley lawyers
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