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5 steps to help protect trade secrets during layoffs

On Behalf of | Aug 6, 2020 | Intellectual Property

As a business owner, one of the most unpleasant tasks you will face is laying off employees. However, sometimes you may have no choice but to let a number of employees go, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

Anytime you have to lay off even one employee, you run the risk of having your business’s trade secrets exposed. It’s important to take some steps to help minimize this risk. Here are five ways you can help protect your proprietary information.

1. Conduct Exit Interviews

Exit interviews are useful for determining the intentions of your employees. An employee who refuses to uphold their duty to protect your trade secrets or refuses to return confidential materials should instantly raise a red flag. Documenting statements made during an exit interview can help support your case should business litigation commence.


2. Ask for the Return of All Company Property

Company property belongs to your company. This includes work laptops, email communications, flash drives, cloud storage accounts, and hard copies of documents. Ask questions designed to help determine whether an employee has any company property at home and request that all information be returned to your business.

3. Deactivate Accounts

Any proactive measures you take to protect your trade secrets will be meaningless if an employee still has access to your workplace systems. Deactivate email accounts and remove any permissions held by a former employee. You should also change any relevant passwords as well.

4. Remind Former Employees of Their Obligations

Remind your former employees of their duty to protect the trade secrets of your business. It’s worth stating this during the exit interview. It’s also a good idea to reiterate this obligation in written form.

5. Take Note of Suspicious Activity

You should pay attention to the actions of former employees. If you notice a number of odd downloads shortly before or after terminating an employee, you should be on guard. If your former employee is hired by a competitor, be aware of any actions that seem to mirror actions taken by your own company.

There is no foolproof way to ensure that your trade secrets always remain safe. However, by taking the steps listed above, you can help minimize the risk of trade secret theft. If you suspect an ex-employee is stealing company information, discuss your legal options with a skilled professional.