Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What to Do When an Employee Walks Out the Door

Seeing an employee leave is usually not easy. Employers invest a lot in their employees, and often develop close relationships with them. More often than not, the employees who leave voluntarily are an employer’s best workers, leaving a significant void behind.

While it might be difficult to lessen the emotional blow of a valuable employee walking out the door, there are a number of things an employer can do to lessen the blow to the business. This might, ironically, actually require an employer to pay an employee money when leaving.

Employers should strongly consider providing separation agreements to certain employees. In a separation agreement, the employer gives the departing employee compensation in exchange for the employee agreeing to certain conditions. These conditions might include not working for a competitor or soliciting former clients. They might also include a confidentiality provision that would prevent the employee from disclosing trade secrets or business strategies. They could also include a non-disparagement agreement, where an employee agrees not to make disparaging comments about the company. Of course, the employee must voluntarily agree to this separation agreement. If the employee is forced to sign the agreement, he might argue that he was required to do so under duress, which would void the agreement.

In addition to utilizing a separation agreement, employers should require employees to complete an exit interview. In that exit interview, the employer should find out where the employee will be working, and what the employee’s role will be with that organization. This might help the employer determine whether the employee might be helping a competitor or breaching a non-compete agreement.

Moreover, during this exit interview, the employer should remind the employee of his or her legal obligations. These might include contractual obligations negotiated in non-compete or confidentiality agreements, or requirements under statutes like the Illinois Trade Secret Act or the Lanham Act that prevent an employee from disclosing or using an employer’s intellectual property once he leaves. The employer should also require the employee to return all company property during this interview. Once the interview has concluded, require the employee to sign an exit interview acknowledgment form, which lists all of the employee’s obligations upon leaving.

Ultimately, a valuable employee’s departure does not have to be a death blow for a company. A proper exit strategy can ensure that an employee leaves on good terms while the company remains protected. You may want to consider contacting an experienced attorney to review or create an employee exit policy.