Protecting your company’s data when users leave

At any business, staff members will at some point leave — and they might take sensitive data with them. In this guest post, Lauren R offers some tips for protecting that information.

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It’s inevitable at some point that a member of your company’s staff will leave, one way or another. Hopefully this departure will be amicable, but in some instances, an ex-staff member may decide to use your company data to its own advantage.  For any business, especially smaller ones, this can have a detrimental effect, particularly if your data is used to poach customers and start a rival operation.  Here are some vital tips to help protect your business data when staff decide to leave.

Be prepared

Nobody likes to see the worst in people, but it really is in companies’ interests to make sure they cover themselves in case a staff member leaves and either takes vital data with them, or causes damage to the company.  Having a robust policy in place to tackle this eventuality will ensure that you know how to deal with it and reduce the impact it may cause.

Contract

One of the best strategies you can use is to create an employment contract that sets out legal obligations for when a staff member leaves the company.

Data protection clauses are useful, because they make it illegal for employees to misuse company data when they leave.

You may also decide to add a restrictive covenant clause to the contract, which can help protect your business data.  This may include aspects such as preventing an employee from working in competition after they leave, or make it illegal for an ex-employee to poach clients from you or to contact them in any way.

Some businesses impose a garden leave clause into an employee’s contract, so that if an employee leaves, the business can insist that the employee doesn’t attend work for the rest of the notice period, but will still get paid. The purpose of garden leave is to ensure that during that notice period, the employee doesn’t have access to in-house data and keeps him or her out of the market place so they’re not likely to set up in competition.

How you go about deciding which clause to impose on each staff member depends on the risk that they pose to your business.  Often, senior members of staff with more insight into the business or sales staff may be riskier than other members.  Making a risk assessment of your staff can therefore help to minimize the impact of any loss of data.

Security and passwords

Another vital measure you can take to protect your data when a staff member leaves is to ensure that all passwords are changed so ex-employees can’t access data after their departure.  They should hand back all business property and you should put security measures in place to ensure that information is not taken off systems.

When staff are working during their notice period, you may wish to screen the level and content of work that is given to them of a nature that may be damaging to the company, if they take it with them.  If they have access to social networking sites for work purposes, you may well want to monitor this usage in case they discuss sensitive issues or comment on your business.

Create goodwill

An important prevention strategy to adopt is to try to nurture all relations with staff, so that they don’t feel in a position to exploit you when they leave the company.  Often, its staff that have grievances with an organisation, that are most likely to cause the worst damage.  Try to iron out any issues with staff before they leave, or seek alternatives to avoid them leaving in the first place.  If they do resign, though, conduct exit interviews so you have a clear understanding of their situation and whether they may pose a threat or not to your company data.

About the author: This article was written by Lauren R, a freelance technology blogger. She focuses on computer security privacy, online business and social networking. She enjoys helping businesses understand how to make the most of advances in technology. When she’s not writing she enjoys cooking and watching trashy American sit-coms.