When growing a business, executives and owners have to go the extra mile when it comes to protecting trade secrets. In the pursuit of their company’s business, a common practice for corporations of all sizes is implementing non-compete clauses in their employees’ contracts. This ensures, should an employee leave the company for any reason, they cannot utilize trade secrets for the purpose of building a similar business of their own. It’s in a business owner’s best interest to be preemptive in protecting themselves from client poaching, theft of company secrets, and possibly even slander when it comes to current and former employees who violate their non-compete agreements.
Though they go by several names and the laws concerning them vary state to state, non-compete agreements are generally a legally-binding contract between an employer and an employee, whereupon acceptance of a job offer by a company, an individual agrees during their employment and following their termination they will not enter into any competing business for a predetermined period of time. Whether it’s working for a company’s top competitor, or striking out in their own business, non-compete agreements protect trade secrets, sensitive company information, and prevent competing businesses from poaching successful employees with promises of a handsome pay-raise in exchange for the expertise they might have gleaned from their time at their previous position. This kind of information can range from client bases to business operations to future products and services. The duration of the non-compete agreement following an employee’s termination have to be well within reason, as no employer can permanently preclude a former employee from any line of work.
Not every company experiences difficulties by virtue of a former employee violating their non-compete agreement, and some companies do not see the need for non-compete agreements at all, but the consequences of trade secrets being used to steal a company’s business can have devastating effects, ending in the worst possible circumstances with a business closing and an owner in debt. Even if a company is able to quash a non-compete violation in court, the cost to the company in legal fees can be astronomical, especially for smaller businesses. That’s why it’s important for owners and executives to be preemptive and proactive when it comes to potential violators. Luckily, a private investigator can help at all stages of a non-compete violation investigation.
Human resource employees are the salt of the earth, and can have a great influence on how a company develops based on the individuals they select for their workforce. However, human resource employees are not lie detectors, and do not always have access to legitimate, comprehensive background screening tools. Background screenings and checks are among the most common service associated with private investigators. If there is something suspect in a candidate’s past, licensed private investigators have the tools and experience to find it out. Private investigators can pull a candidate’s criminal history, financial history, and interview persons in their lives who can speak to character and work ethic. They can also spot patterns in a person’s work history or lifestyle that could be high-risk factors in a hypothetical non-compete violation—things like transience, long periods between positions, or financial destitution.
Some malingering employees can’t wait to be terminated before violating their non-compete agreements. It’s not uncommon for these individuals to exploit trade secrets for their businesses own gain while on company time and dime. While on a business trip, an individual might use company per diem to buy drinks for a person who could be a potential investor in their new business. Employees might use company supplies to supplement their project, such as printers, fax machines, computers, and other equipment. Private investigators can conduct diligent investigations within a company’s workforce to root out the source of the theft. Private investigators can interview witnesses, including upper management and other staff, review vital documents like bank records, and conduct surveillance of the company’s operations as needed to expose the perpetrator. Their objectivity makes them an ideal candidate to conduct such an investigation because they do not have a stake in the outcome.
There are many circumstances under which a business owner might come to suspect a former employee has violated their non-compete agreement. Word might have traveled through business circles that a similar business is starting up. Employees might start disappearing in clusters. Clients may suddenly decide to sever business ties in favor of a new contender in the competition. Whatever transpires, one thing is certain—documenting and exposing this exploitation is imperative, because the consequences can be costly. Retaining a qualified private investigator who specializes in corporate crises is crucial to resolving non-compete violations quickly, before the exponential costs begin to erode profits. Private investigators can perform surveillance on suspected former employees to document their movements, record with whom they met, and collect evidence such as pictures of a brick and mortar establishment, marketing materials, vital documents, and filings with the Secretary of State. Private investigators can send undercover operatives to infiltrate a workforce to get information the business privy only to employees. They can also enlist the aid of a confidential informant—an individual already within the company to provide information. This requires quality interviewing skills and developing a natural rapport with potential witnesses, both important qualities in a qualified investigator.
When non-compete violations are at their ugliest, not only do violators seek to siphon off their former employer’s business by exploiting trade secrets and knowledge of their operations, but they can also play dirty by exposing this information publicly. Another method involves deliberately spreading lies about the competition in order to drive business towards the former employee’s company. That’s known as slander and it’s legally actionable. Documenting the perpetuation of these lies and proving they are in fact false are crucial in these cases. Diligent fact-finding is the cornerstone of any private investigator’s expertise. Private investigators can conduct cyber investigations to track down the users behind profiles that post false negative reviews, follow rumors back to their roots, and forensically track how information left the competition and made its way into the former employee’s business nucleus. They can implement many of the strategies aforementioned: surveillance, interviewing witnesses, documenting evidence. Slander cases tend to have a divisive they-said, they-said narrative, which is where a private investigator’s objectivity becomes invaluable once more. Private investigators have no stake in the solution of an investigation. Their independence coupled with their expertise and resume make them spectacular witnesses in any subsequent litigation.
When a company has a non-compete agreement in place, it’s important that executives and owners are proactive when performing a risk assessment on a potential employee. It’s important that a healthy company culture fosters good comradery, honesty, and a policy of “if you see something, say something.” Building a case against a former employee who violated their agreement can be time consuming at the expense of company resources. Dealing with the fallout from litigation can bring a reliable business to its knees. Private investigators can assist in all phases of any non-compete agreement violation, and retaining their services will go a long way towards a body of objective evidence and testimony that can resolve a company’s crisis.
If you have suspicions that a current or former employee has violated their non-compete agreement, contact Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation on how we can help you! Call 317-955-1100 or find us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on investigations, missing person, and other topics in the criminal justice system.
Fighting for custody of your children is the most important battle you’ll ever wage. Losing the right to see your kids and spend time with them as you see fit isn’t something anyone should face alone. Custody battles can be long, intimidating, and costly. You need every resource at your disposal to make sure you have the upper hand at every stop. Here are five ways private investigators can make sure you’re not alone in the fight of your life.
1. Did you really know your ex?
How well do you know your ex? When you got married you certainly believed you knew her inside and out, but you also didn’t believe you’d end up divorced. Splitting up will change how you view one another. You’ll start seeing flaws you never noticed before and having questions you thought you knew the answer too. You thought you knew her before you got married, but did you?
When did you first meet your ex? Have you known her since grade school or did you meet later in life? Are you certain this was her first marriage? Does she have a criminal history she kept hidden from you? Where has she worked and why did she change jobs? Private investigators can answer all of these questions and more by running extensive background checks and personally verifying the information for you.
2. Who’s coming and going?
When you and your ex shared a home, you consulted each other before inviting people over. Together you decided who you did and didn’t want inside your house. Now that you’re apart, those determinations will be made separately, which might be cause for concern.
It’s one thing for your ex to bring people over when the kids aren’t there, but what about when they are? Who’s coming and going from the house and what are they doing? Maybe the increase in visitors is nothing. Maybe someone selling drugs from the house.
In an ideal world you’d ask your ex what’s going on and get a straight answer, but that’s likely not the case. Divorce can create tension and difficulty in communication. One way to avoid a big fight that won’t get you the answers you want is to hire a private investigator. An investigator can surveil the home and determine who is stopping by and why. P.I.s will get you vital information while avoiding the drama of asking your ex.
3. Are my kids safe and clean?
Children need a comfortable and clean environment. It’s vital to their development that they have a space they can relax and feel safe in. Who took care of the house when you and your ex were still together? Have your kids made comments about their mom not keeping the house tidy like she should?
It should be easy to find out about the condition of your ex’s place, but maybe she won’t let you in out of embarrassment or scorn. If she’s having a rough time dealing with the divorce it’s possible she’s depressed and not taking care of things like your children deserve. Private investigators can determine the condition of her home and help you ensure your kids are safe and comfortable.
4. Where is your ex taking you children and are they safe?
Worried about where your ex takes your children during her visitation time? At least when she stays home you know they’re somewhere safe and controlled. They’re in a familiar place and near a phone in case of an emergency. What happens when she packs the kids into the car and goes somewhere else though?
Depending on the age of your children they might need booster seats when they ride in the car. Are they to small to safely ride in the front seat? Is your ex properly placing them in safety restraints? Is she making sure they put their seat belts on every time they travel? Where is she taking your kids?
People deal with stress differently. Some people take up knitting or learn to play a musical instrument. Others find themselves seeking the comfort of a bottle or narcotic. Are you sure your children aren’t being driven around to liquor stores and bad neighborhood’s where your ex picks up her supplies?
Private investigators can answer all of these question with mobile surveillance. Investigators can track your ex to make sure your children aren’t being placed in dangerous positions. Not only can P.I.s let you know where your children are being taken and how, but they can document instances of child endangerment for evidence in court.
5. Who are these people?
Splitting up with your ex means going in different directions and starting new lives. Building a new life requires developing new social circles. When you were married you knew you were coming home to each other and your kids every evening. Now that you’re apart, other people will begin filling that void.
Can you trust your ex to keep you informed about the strangers she’s bringing around your children? Maybe she genuinely trusts these people, but how good has her judgement been in the past? She might be a little too trusting for your comfort.
Private investigators can give you peace of mind by figuring out who she’s introducing to your children. Running background checks and surveillance will give you a clear picture of who’s interacting with your children and whether you should be concerned or not. Be certain that your kids are safe and know for sure if they’re not
For Private Investigation Inquiry contact Thomas Lauth, Lauth Investigations 317-951-1100
David Schroeder, Blog Writer, Lauth Investigations International