If you own your own business, you know finding the right people to build your company is vital. One “weak link in the chain,” as they say, can tear a business down to its foundation. And as such, it’s not only important to hire the right people, but also protect your business from being exploited in the event a former employee might expose trade secrets. If it is your business’ practice to require a signature of an employee on a covenant not to compete, you should consider having a private investigator on retainer in order to vet any suspicions of non-compete violations.
Often referred to as a non-compete clause, a covenant not to compete or CNC is designed to protect an employer’s business against future competition or theft of trade secrets by a former employee. In essence, the CNC prevents a former employee, terminated or otherwise, from using a business’ trade secrets to either work for or start a rival business. Violators of CNC have an intimate knowledge of a particular business and can use that information to destroy it. In addition to exploiting the successes of a company by using the same strategies, a violator uses their knowledge to exploit the weaknesses of a company. They know where the vulnerable spots are in their business model, and violators can correct this process in the rival business, as well as, target their former employer in advertisements.
These legal contracts have a history going back as far as the 15th century, when English common law refused to enforce the Renaissance-era CNCs on the grounds they would place too many restrictions on trade. There have been many arguments made CNCs also interfere with America’s capitalist economy, placing restraints on the free-market standards in the United States. There are only a few states in the union completely prohibiting the use of non-competes, including California, Montana, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. One of the industries where CNCs are most common is the media. Most media-conglomerates force employees to sign CNCs at the time of hire to prevent them from sharing delicate information about media markets upon leaving their position. Another common industry is finance, especially Wall Street, where a person can literally be indicted for knowing too much, having been charged with insider-trading. Many might remember reading about CNCs back in 2005, when Microsoft and Google took a former employee, Kai-Fu Lee, to task by enforcing his CNC after leaving the company. CNCs are everywhere, and as such, businesses would be wise to employ external investigators to get the hard facts on CNC violations.
As was the case with FMLA fraud violations within a company, having an external investigator—like a PI—on retainer, will allow the company to protect itself in the event they believe a former employee has violated their CNC. The fallout from CNC violations can be ugly, with former employees insisting, not only did they not violate their CNC, but also they are being persecuted by their former employer. A private investigator is a third-party, which means they are well within their means to be objective. A private investigator’s loyalty is to the truth, as such, you can rely on cold-hard facts to bolster a case against a CNC violator. This objectivity comes in handy during litigation when enforcing a CNC.
The former employee cannot claim their employer is biased in their fact-finding, because they did not conduct the investigation. While a business can sue a former employee for violation of a CNC, it is not a criminal matter, so a business cannot ask law enforcement to investigate. Luckily, private investigators often have a resume bearing similar experience to law enforcement, as well as ,a very similar set of tools to find answers. They can locate witnesses, witness statements, videotapes, photographs, and acquire documents to build a prima facia case against a CNC violator. Whatever the circumstances, having an objective external investigator on retainer will provide businesses with the assurance they have conducted all necessary steps to safeguard their company.