Exit interviews: Important tools to protect trade secrets

| Jun 16, 2021 | employment law, intellectual property & trade secrets

Employers know that terminating employment requires a delicate process. Whether an employee resigned, retired or was let go, employers must ensure they continue to uphold the employee’s rights.

However, they must also take steps to protect their business as well. One step that employers may not think necessary is the exit interview. But this often-overlooked step can be critical.

Why are exit interviews so essential?

In an exit interview, managers, supervisors or Human Resources representatives meet with the employee leaving the company. These interviews are important for many reasons, including:

  • Maintaining open lines of communication between employers and employees
  • Preserving the company and employer’s brand
  • Helping businesses continue to improve and grow from employee feedback

However, another reason that exit interviews are so important is the protection of trade secrets. An unfortunate amount of cases involve current and former employees taking a company’s confidential information.

The case involving the alleged theft and sale of Apple’s trade secrets is one of the more recent examples. According to reports, the employee in question announced their resignation, but then continued to attend meetings and saved trade secrets to a personal drive on their last day of work.

How can employers secure trade secrets in the exit interview?

Whoever conducts the exit interview should make sure they:

  • Remind employees about their legal obligations and terms of agreements that are still in effect
  • Verify what confidential information the employee had access to throughout their employment
  • Ensure they return all company property, including documents, devices and other company information

Of course, employers must establish security measures for trade secrets long before an exit interview occurs. But exit interviews still play an important role in protecting them.

Conduct the interviews with care

California employers must prepare for the exit interview. These interviews require great care and strategy. Employers should not make employees feel overwhelmed or threatened, and they must ensure the questions they ask do not violate employee rights. Employers should develop best practices for managing these interviews and the termination of employees.