Employee exit interviews are a useful tool for protecting businesses trade secrets.  Many businesses use exit interviews for a different purpose – eliciting candid answers from a former insider about what the business is doing right and wrong.  It is also a time to talk to the employee about trade secrets that may be at risk due to the employee’s departure.

Trade secrets may be at risk in two different ways.  The first risk is knowledge loss.  The second risk is inadvertent or intentional disclosure of trade secrets to a competitor.

Knowledge Loss

To address the risk of knowledge loss, ask the departing employee questions such as this:

  • “What do you know that no one else here knows?”

Capture that knowledge before the employee leaves.

Risk of Disclosure

Here are a few suggestions regarding how to prepare for and conduct the exit interview to address the risk of disclosure to a competitor.

Start before the meeting by speaking to the departing employee’s supervisor.  Learn which trade secrets the employee had access to, where those trade secrets are stored, and whether the supervisor believes there is a risk the employee could disclose the trade secrets to a competitor.  Use that information to plan the questions that you will ask during the exit interview.

Examples of useful questions are:

  • “Where are you going to work next?”
  • “Did you use any cloud storage during the time you worked here?”
  • “To complete your work, did you ever need to email computer files to your personal email account or take copies of them home?”
  • “Have you ever needed to use your personal laptop or home computer for work purposes?”
  • “What paper records related to our business do you have?”
  • “Have you accessed work email on your cell phone or other devices?”

The exit interview is also a good opportunity to remind the departing employee about the employee’s obligations under confidentiality agreements, non-competition agreements or other restrictive covenants.  Bring copies of any the agreements and related company policies to the meeting.  Provide the departing employee with a copy of those records and obtain the employee’s written confirmation that the employee understands the restrictions will still be in place after the last day of employment.

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