When you leave a job to start a new position, you are hoping to look forward instead of having to deal with issues with your former employer. To avoid legal problems, it is important to understand some of your post-employment obligations.
Many employees sign employment agreements that contain non-compete or non-solicitation clauses. These clauses prohibit soliciting clients and employees from your former employer, and prevent competition within an industry or area. Read these clauses carefully because a potential violation can lead to a costly lawsuit. And often, the penalties for an actual – or even threatened – breach of these clauses can be very severe. In a recent case, an employer went after a former employee who connected with people through LinkedIn. The employer argued that the former employee was recruiting the company’s workforce to staff a new business. While the employee won both in the trial court and on appeal, this was likely still an expensive and time consuming battle. See generally Bankers Life & Cas. Co. v. Am. Senior Benefits, LLC, 2017 IL App (1st) 160687.
You may have also signed an agreement that contains confidentiality obligations. These clauses are intended to prevent an employee from giving the former employers “confidential” information to any third party.
Even if you did not sign a formal agreement, the federal Trade Secrets Act and the Illinois Trade Secrets Act prevent employees from giving a former employer’s “trade secrets” to a new employer. Even if an employee doesn’t provide the trade secrets to the new employer, Illinois allows employers to argue that the employee’s new position will lead to an “inevitable disclosure” of the trade secrets.
Finally, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is a criminal law that also has a civil component. Employers have used it broadly to cover a lot of situations. The law prohibits unauthorized access of a computer network. So employers have used the law against former employees that may have sent documents they worked on to themselves, or copied documents to a UBS drive.
Be aware of these issues when you leave your job to avoid an expensive dispute. If you have questions or need representation, contact our office today.