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.
Even if you’re not a fan of Fox’s successful prime time drama, Empire, you’re likely aware of the name Jussie Smollett by now. Smollett has come under fire in the media and on the internet for his allegedly false account of a racially-motivated attack against him in January, where he alleged two men attempted to strangle him and pour bleach on him. When the story first broke, it was shaping up to be a watershed moment in conversations about how the current administration is affecting race-relations throughout the country. After law enforcement conducted an investigation into his version of events, they’ve released statements that Smollett may have hired the men responsible to help him stage the attack. The case has created divisive new conversations about the United States’ current political climate, but is also prompting career investigators to highlight the importance of thorough and diligent fact-finding in the early stages of any investigation—especially within corporations.
Conducting an investigation with unimpeachable integrity is very similar to building a structure ready to withstand natural disasters. Laying a firm groundwork from the moment of the intake narrative will set an impregnable foundation allowing investigators and support staff to develop strong leads. Investigators must be prepared to ask every question—albeit inane or delicate—in order to ensure they are getting all of the existing, relevant information on the case. This is a process called fact-finding, in which a victim or witness’s statement is documented and entered into record, thereby allowing investigators to thoroughly vet every aspect of their statement. Were they in fact present when the incident took place? Can they accurately describe the alleged perpetrator? Is their story consistent across multiple iterations?
As is the case with any investigation, operatives are racing against the clock. With time, witnesses’ memories fade and witnesses themselves disappear, having relocated or simply left town. As time goes by, evidence is eroded, eventually disappearing, eliminating the leads they might have developed. This is why thorough fact-finding is so important, because investigators who are operating off false or inaccurate leads can lose days or weeks on a case as they chase a lead that will eventually come to no end. While investigators chase those dead leads, the truth about what actually occurred dissolves into obscurity.
Investigators in the Smollett case were able to vet his account of events and discover there may be more to the story than meets the eye. The case was not an isolated incident of allegedly false accusations having major consequences for the parties involved. Regardless of why an individual would make false accusations—whether it was with malice or simply a mistake—these circumstances could occur in many areas of life that could be devastating to both individuals and corporations.
Allegations of misconduct in the workplace immediately come to mind. Whether it’s allegations of theft or sexual harassment, these are the kinds of cases where it’s crucial to have the intake narrative well-documented, with detailed first accounts from all principles on the who, where, when, how, and why in any series of events. Cases regarding misconduct in the workplace have a higher chance of being litigated following the completion of any investigation, usually through civil and wrongful termination lawsuits.
A thorough and diligent private investigator is an invaluable asset to both sides of any investigation, as they are an independent third party and do not have a stake in the outcome of the investigation. Any fact-finding performed by an objective third party stands up to a much higher degree of scrutiny by the opposition. Investigators who are directly employed by any parties in either side have a lot to lose if their employer faces ruin following a lawsuit.
Which brings us to another issue in handling the fact-finding internally. Internal investigators can have a variety of qualifications depending on the corporation’s procedure. It’s true some businesses have licensed investigators on retainer to assist in regular operations, like a business who hires a private investigator to run a background check on a candidate for an upper management position. However, depending on the size of the company, the investigating party in some corporate crises is just the head of Human Resources—who might then be supervising other subordinates to do the legwork. Human Resource managers are invaluable employees who keep businesses running like clockwork, but this does not necessarily qualify them to conduct an investigation in every possible scenario, such as investigations requiring surveillance, undercover work, or properly documenting any evidence that might be recovered. This kind of oversight can have disastrous consequences in the later stages of an investigation, or even in a court of law. The opposition’s case is strengthened when there is evidence an internal investigator has not done their due-diligence.
Corporations of all sizes, trades, and levels of notoriety experience crises throughout their history. When disaster strikes and the stakes are high, it’s important to retain the services of a qualified, licensed, private investigator to begin an investigation. It’s not uncommon for a private investigator to be hired on after internal investigators have already made an attempt. It’s best to start strong, with due-diligent service from a seasoned external investigator to lay an impenetrable foundation for a thorough investigation.
Divorce and child custody are polarizing topics in the United States. Divorce itself is an ugly business. Two people who stood in front of their friends and families and promised themselves to another now find themselves in a situation where the life they built together is over. Often it is a storm of heightened emotions, personal crises, mediation, negotiation, carping, and resentment. For many, children sit in the eye of the storm, helplessly witnessing the destruction of their family unit around them. As if this were not tumultuous enough, children often become silent pawns between two parents or caregivers who seek to hurt one another. When developing a strategy for navigating a custody situation, caregivers often do not consider the possibility of hiring a private investigator to help build a credible case for sole or partial custody.
Many couples who are on the brink of divorce, or already treading in the harsh current of proceedings, default to the advice of lawyers, the court system, and child services when it comes to issues of custody. There is a myriad of reasons for this, including a parent’s financial means, work schedule, health issues, and ignorance. What’s problematic about leaving issues of custody in the hands of lawyers and the courts is families in turmoil become files in a drawer. The decisions made on behalf of the legal system often rest on the review of a mountain of paperwork; courts relying on police reports, financial/asset summaries, psychological evaluations, et cetera. What’s on paper becomes the load bearing beam for any decision made regarding custody, because caregivers in conflict are both subject to scrutiny in their statements against the other.
Private investigators have a tool chest similar to that of law enforcement allowing them to document a subject’s movements, behavior, and treatment of their children—both prior to divorce proceedings and after. Members of law enforcement are often the most credible investigators in the eyes of the court. However, unless a criminal act is reported, such as domestic violence or child neglect, law enforcement has little to no involvement in custody cases. Parents without those tools at hand are left with little recourse. Any evidence they document themselves is subject to scrutiny by the courts and by opposing counsel as misrepresented, inaccurate, or downright false. In those cases, those parents trying to build a credible case against their co-parent or caregiver can be maligned as malicious by opposing counsel, and those details may prove to be to their detriment.
The number one advantage of hiring a private investigator to document a questionable parent’s behavior is their ability to move through any environment undetected. Despite the fact a study determined there was an excess of 78,000 private investigators employed in the United States alone in 2017, you’ll never see a good one in the field. Private investigators are trained to blend into the crowd and surveil inconspicuously in order to ensure the subject does not modify their behavior for the benefit of being watched. In addition to hiding in plain sight, part of maintaining success in their profession means staying up to date on the best available surveillance technology on the market in order to gather evidence for their cases. Things like cameras disguised as ink pens, or drones with quiet motors that will not be easily detected. Parents are on their very best behavior when in mediation or appearing before a judge, but private investigators can completely upset the current state of a custody case with evidence they uncover in the field. They can document things like abuse and neglect through photographs, video, audio recordings, witness testimony, and the same examination of vital documents that would be performed by the courts. Their training has equipped them to be on the lookout for things like substance dependency, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or gambling problems. They can also document the opposing caregiver’s living conditions, whether or not the child is clean and well-fed, and their emotional wellness while in the care of said person. What makes a private investigator a particularly valuable asset is they are an objective third-party. Even if they have in fact been paid by one party in a custody case, misrepresentation of facts on their part may mollify their client in the moment, but will ultimately hurt their integrity with future business. Due to this, private investigators can become unimpeachable witnesses to behavior they’ve seen on the part of the opposing side that would damage the child’s well-being.
Private investigators can take on child custody cases at many different levels, all of which can be beneficial to the parent who wishes to establish a case against another parent or caregiver who they perceive to have questionable integrity. As with any investigation, the sooner the process of documenting and gathering evidence starts, the stronger a foundation the parent will have when they present their case before a judge. Parents who are considering divorcing a co-parent or caregiver and intend to establish a pattern of unfitness should consult a private investigator right away. The subject is more likely to proceed as they would normally prior to news that their partner is taking them to court. While the subject may not suspect they are being legally surveilled during a divorce proceeding, they are aware of the fact that—at a minimum—their behavior and actions during that time will be taken under consideration by the courts. The time to start collecting evidence is before divorce papers are drawn up and served.
However, it’s no mystery circumstances may not allow for this. Events prompting divorce proceedings may be very sudden, allowing no time for a hyper-covert investigation on behalf of the client. Parents who are in abusive relationships may not have access to the financial resources for this kind of initiative. As such, many private investigators enter the case when divorce is already a reality and custody proceedings are in full swing. One of the major criticisms of the court system in custody cases is children are often defaulted to the custody of their mothers, leaving fit fathers or other caregivers with few options. In one such example, an investigator from Indianapolis, IN was hired to investigate the parental fitness of a mother fighting her ex-husband and his parents for custody of their eight-year-old daughter. The child was shuttled back and forth between her mother and father’s respective homes for a few months while family court proceedings moved at a glacial pace. The father became increasingly concerned about his daughter while she was in her mother’s custody, and hired a private investigator to find answers. The investigator uncovered the mother’s place of residence on the record was dilapidated, dirty, and not at all a suitable environment for a child. Additionally, the investigator found the mother’s new husband had a criminal record, regularly used drugs, and had questionable judgement when it came to things like social media interaction and encounters with law enforcement. This led to the father retaining full custody of his daughter, with the mother being allowed only supervised visits. This investigative strategy is a two-way street, meaning that a parent who has been falsely accused of abuse or neglect in order to limit access to their child can hire a private investigator to disprove these claims, document the proper living conditions for the child in question, and secure evidence of malicious intent on behalf of the caregiver making false allegations.
Children should never be used as chess pawns in a messy divorce. Ultimately, any child custody investigation should be about the child’s safety and well-being—not about which parent is righteous in their indignation. A private investigator’s expertise, testimony, and lack of bias can shine a crisp, contextual light on the muddied waters of a child custody case.
Employee misconduct in the workplace can have a toxic effect on morale and productivity, which often incentivizes employers to resolve the situation quickly. These days, there are clear benefits to getting out in front of any misconduct complaint as movements like #MeToo have employers scrambling to vet their workforce so they can identify predators before scandal or evidence of misconduct can become public. In a surveillance culture where both bad behavior and good behavior are fodder for a good viral news story, employers everywhere are starting to understand the value in properly handling a corporate crisis. But in their haste to resolve the situation, are employers handling internal investigations properly?
Regardless of the type of business and type of misconduct, (sexual harassment, drug-trafficking, theft, etc.) the first instinct where there is a whiff of employee misconduct is often to keep the information very close to executives. As with any investigation, the controlled release of information has an investigative advantage in identifying the true culprits of any misconduct. This is the beginning of employers remaining too close to the situation. It’s not unusual for a well-meaning employer to appoint themselves as the head of the investigation—but this presents a huge conflict of interest. As a person with a great deal to lose, the employer is, by their very nature, biased and an unbiased investigation is the foundation for anything built on an employee complaint. Without the use of an external investigator, the case loses integrity.
Hiring an external investigator, like a licensed private investigator, will bring a flattering layer of transparency to any workplace investigation. First and foremost, a private investigator is an independent third-party. Having no personal knowledge of the employees involved—and therefore having no preconceived notions about them—means they can truly approach the case from an indisputable place of objectivity. The employer’s personal knowledge of their employees disqualifies them from such objectivity. Whatever the misconduct du jour, they might never suspect their trusted personal assistant, their senior manager, or their business partner—all individuals with extensive access to company information and property. However, a private investigator will vet this list of possible suspects in search of the truth.
When an employer is unsure of how to proceed when investigating workplace misconduct, it seems like a no-nonsense solution to let the lawyers handle it. And it can often make sense, as they will be fielding any litigation that surfaces. In-house counsel might feel it’s under their purview for the same reasons, but this is very misguided. The lines of their capacities as both in-house counsel and investigator cross one another, thus creating another conflict of interest. While there are states like New York that allow attorneys to act as private investigators without a license to do so, this is still not recommended. Witnesses within the company will likely have anxiety about speaking to the company’s lawyer, and might not be as forthcoming with pertinent details. Leads suddenly begin pancaking into dead ends as nervous employees become less cooperative. Private investigators have the advantage in this situation, as they are not representatives of the individual’s employers in any capacity, and have no power to fire them. It’s the same advantage private investigators have over law enforcement because they have no powers of arrest.
The documentation provided by a private investigator is invaluable to workplace investigations. After all, many reports not handled to the satisfaction of the complainant often lead to legal action, the most common example being the more familiar story of sexual harassment in the workplace: An employee alleges sexual misconduct against another employee. Both parties are interviewed. The interviewer does not tape the interview nor take notes. After a shoddy investigation, the complainant decides to sue the company for negligence. Another common example is the case of an employee who is hastily terminated for FMLA abuse or malingering before the company conducts a thorough investigation.
Not only are paper and ink expensive, but filling out and preparing reports is time-consuming—time that would be better spent trying to improve your business. Private investigators keep meticulous records, just like law enforcement, of all witness statements, evidence, surveillance, and relevant information to the case. This will go a long way towards addressing the complaint after the PI has issued their solution. It’s a perfect package: The investigation is chronicled from beginning to end, all of the relevant information is accessible, and best of all, it was conducted, prepared, and presented by a completely objective, independent third-party. The same third-party can also offer testimony in any court case that might result from the investigation.
Whether you’re investigating sexual harassment allegations, drug-trafficking, theft, or any complaint of employee misconduct, make the proactive choice of hiring a private investigator. It’s the strongest first step you can take in any internal workplace investigation. From the beginning, the investigator will be an impartial, unbiased eye whose only loyalty is to the truth. This kind of due-diligence will go a long way towards demonstrating you, as an employer, have heard the complaint, taken it seriously, and are only interested in what actually occurred. The solution will not be based on pre-conceived notions of colleagues, or biased assumptions, but independent deduction and well-documented evidence. And even if the investigation comes to a less than amiable termination, the foundation laid by the private investigator will protect your business from litigation.
Why Private Investigators Have an Advantage Over Police
For months, the family of 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez wondered if they would ever have answers in his mysterious disappearance. On the day he disappeared, he was left in the care of his father’s girlfriend, Emily Glass. In the missing persons report, Glass told investigators on February 17th, 2018, she saw Lucas playing in his room around three in the afternoon. She then took a shower and fell asleep. When she awoke around six in the evening, Lucas was nowhere to be found.
Law enforcement in Wichita investigated for months, unearthing no credible leads into Lucas’ disappearance. Months later, on May 24th, locals were shocked after a private investigator blew the case wide open by informing law enforcement Emily Glass had led them to the decomposing remains of little Lucas under a nearby bridge. Why would Glass, after dealing with law enforcement for months, only then break her silence regarding her knowledge of the little boy’s body? The answer is as simple as this: Private investigators have advantages law enforcement do not when it comes to conducting concurrent independent investigations in criminal and missing persons cases.
So how is a private investigator’s approach different from the approach of a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency? The first thing to consider is the caseload of most law enforcement agencies. From the moment an initial report is made, in both criminal and missing persons cases, law enforcement have the meticulous and overwhelming task of gathering evidence to build a case that will secure justice on behalf of the victims and the state. Crime scenes need to be mined for evidence by medical examiners and crime scene technicians. Detectives and other investigators need to canvass witnesses—sometimes dozens of people—in the area who might have seen or heard something. Now imagine the workload of one case multiplied by 40 or 50 times. An audit conducted in Portland Oregon in 2007 reviewed law enforcement data from Portland itself, and nine other surrounding cities, to conclude the average caseload for a detective in Portland was a median of 54. This is compared to a 5-year average of 56 cases. Knowing statistics like these are similar in law enforcement agencies all across the country, it’s easy to see how the progress of cases might slow to a crawl. Agencies are overwhelmed, and this is where private investigators have the advantage. Private investigators may only handle one or two cases at a time, giving them their full focus and attention. Wichita law enforcement might have faced similar challenges of an overwhelming caseload when it came to investigating Lucas Hernandez’s disappearance. An article released by the Wichita Eagle in mid-December of 2017 revealed, as of publication, there were still ten homicides from the year 2017 remaining unsolved as the new year approached.
Another compelling advantage for private investigators might initially sound like a disadvantage: Private investigators have no powers of arrest. It seems counter-intuitive that a private investigator may use the same tools as law enforcement, ask the same questions, and may even come to the same conclusion as law enforcement without the ability to arrest a suspect for the crime. However, the case of Hernandez showcased exactly why a private investigator—and their inability to arrest—broke the case wide open. Jim Murray of Star Investigations told KMBC News in Kansas, “We’re less of a threat sometimes to people that we’re talking to because we have no powers of arrest,” said Jim. “We can’t arrest them.” This could explain why Emily Glass finally led a private investigator to Lucas’s body, because she knew they could not put handcuffs on her in that moment.
Unfortunately, family members and locals will never have the truth about what happened to Lucas. In the wake of the private investigator’s discovery, autopsy reports were found to be inconsistent with what Glass told both police and the PI, but before the People could build a case against her, Glass was found dead from an apparent suicide. However, were it not for the efforts of the private investigator, Lucas’s father may never have had answers in his son’s disappearance.
Carie McMichael is the Communications and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, writing about investigative topics such as missing persons and corporate investigations. To learn more about what we do, please visit our website.