Graceful exits


By Rachel Blue

No one likes layoffs. The person getting fired may be depressed and fearful about his or her job loss, and the person doing the firing usually feels rotten about being the bearer of bad news. In a layoff situation, an exit interview might be confined to a discussion of severance or benefits packages. But if the employee had access to proprietary information, it’s worth a few extra minutes to discuss a few more topics.

When an employee works with proprietary information – information that’s not publicly available and that the company wouldn’t want to give to a competitor – on a regular basis and knows he or she is about to lose a job, the employee may be tempted to take what he or she can on the way out the door, either as perceived retaliation against the company or as a way to gain an advantage in the search for a new job.

Here are a few things a company can do to make sure its information doesn’t go out the door with the employee:

  • Be Prepared: Involve the employee’s supervisor and IT staff in the exit interview process, whether they are actually in the room or give input beforehand. Someone with a good understanding of what the employee had access to on a daily basis can be useful in making sure the departing employee is asked the right questions about proprietary information.
  • Just a Reminder: Go over employment agreements and employment policies that address the employee’s obligation to return devices and information, as well as the employee’s continuing obligations of confidentiality even after he/she leaves. Be sure the employee has a clear understanding of what the company considers proprietary and that he or she understands that such information cannot be disclosed to anyone in any media under any circumstance.
  • Hold the phone: If there are employment agreements or personal device policies that the employee agreed to when he or she joined the organization, go over them. Also, make sure the employee’s access to company files is disabled and that company proprietary information is removed from any devices the employee is allowed to keep.
  • What’s the secret password? If the employee was in a position that allowed him or her to set passwords to certain files, be sure there is some redundancy of access to the files among remaining employees, and change the passwords following the departure of the terminated employee.
  • What’s in storage? Talk about what the employee may have stored on other personal devices, at home, in their car, in the cloud, or in hard files offsite. Talk about and make it easy for the employee to return things he or she discovers later.
  • Don’t self destruct: Before you destroy (or ask the employee to destroy) any proprietary information that the employee may have stored, have your IT department make a copy of any confidential information in the employee’s possession at the time of departure, including the metadata behind the information, so that you can determine who edited the information last and when, and whether it was moved, forwarded, or otherwise stored. This could prove useful if there is a dispute about the information later.
  • It’s personal: If the employee asks for personal files from his or her computer, have them reviewed carefully prior to release. Company information can be hidden among personal photos, etc., giving rise to a claim that the company “willingly” released information to the employee.

Please be aware that this publication does not contain legal advice. The views expressed in the article are provided for informational and discussion purposes and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author or of McAfee & Taft A Professional Corporation.