What to do when key employees resign

04 Jun 2014

Key employees get access to much that is vital to your business. For example, they may be pivotal in important customer relationships, have had access to confidential plans or contracts, or worked on new product technology.

When they choose to leave, you need to be alert to the risks, so here are some tips about what you can do (and what you should not do) during the days and weeks after they resign.

Ask them where they are going

It seems obvious, but don’t forget that you have the right to ask and to press them for an answer, within reason. They do not have to tell you, but any employee who refuses to be open about their future plans, or who gives you a less than credible answer, should be regarded with suspicion.

Consider putting them on garden leave

If you don’t take the opportunity very soon after they have resigned, it could count against you later. But you can only do it if there is a garden leave clause in their contract of employment.

Make them report on all their current business activities and contacts

This is a reasonable thing to ask them to do. Any employee who avoids doing it, or is less than open with you, is merely creating grounds for suspicion.

Look at their emails

It is amazing how often employees are found to have emailed confidential material from their work email account to their personal email accounts, often just before resigning. You have the right to check if they have done this from your systems, as long as you operate within certain legal constraints.

Consider using monitoring software or other forensic IT measures

If you become very suspicious about their activity, or they are open about joining a direct competitor, technology may help you get a true picture of their intentions. Consider installing monitoring software on their PC or laptop; or “imaging” their PC’s hard drive; or examining the GPS data on their phone or Blackberry, as well as their call and text records; or analysing their downloading history from databases and websites. These steps may reveal activity that the employee thinks is hidden. Ideally, the time to do some of these things is if you become suspicious before they have even resigned.

Check their contractual restrictions

You need to know before their employment ends if any restrictive covenants in their contract of employment are going to be applicable and enforceable. Take legal advice as soon as possible.

Act on your suspicions and don’t ignore them

If you let them work out their notice as normal and leave with a metaphorical pat on the back, you may be at a severe commercial and legal disadvantage if it transpires that they are planning to join or set up a competing business using your confidential information or on the back of your customer relationships. In this sort of situation, effective legal remedies are available against those who defiantly breach their legal obligations, but they can be more difficult to achieve if you have been slow to act.

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