Plan Exit Interviews for Workers Privy to Proprietary Information

Posted by Charles Middleton on 03/15/2016

Q: Should employers have exit interviews with employees who are laid off?

A: If the reduction in force is large or has a short time frame, it may be impractical. But it's wise to have exit interviews with employees who worked with proprietary information, or information that's not publicly available and that the company wouldn't want to give to a competitor, to ensure assets don't depart with exiting employees.


Q: How should managers prepare for exit interviews with employees who worked with proprietary information?

A: If human resources professionals are handling the interview, they may not know what the employee did every day. Involving the employee's supervisor and IT staff ahead of time may help ensure that the employee is asked the right questions about proprietary information. Beyond that, the person conducting the interview should be familiar with employment agreements and policies that address the employee's obligation to return devices and information. Be sure the employee's access to company information is disabled and proprietary information is removed from devices that the employee is keeping. Be sure there is some redundancy of access to the files among remaining employees, and change any necessary passwords. Also address whether any proprietary information has been 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 if they're discovered later.


Q: Is it enough to have employees sign agreements that they'll destroy anything that might belong to the company?

A: It's better to 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. That will tell you who edited the information last and when, and whether it was moved, forwarded, or otherwise stored, which could all prove useful if there's a dispute about the information later.


Q: What if the employee asks for personal files stored on a company device?

A: You can give those to the employee, but 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.


Published The Oklahoman, March 15, 2016