For the eighth installment of our series on actions that employers can take to prevent employee theft or improper disclosure of company data, we are focusing on the exit interview. How can you make the most of this standard HR procedure? The exit interview is a crucial opportunity to discuss return of property and find out an employee’s new employment plans. The following steps can help make an exit interview a strategic part of a plan to protect confidential information:

  •  Go beyond “soft” questions that ask about the employee’s experience at the company. Ask where the employee is going to work next and in what capacity. If an employee is honest, you will gain a great deal of insight into what potential exposure there may be. If the employee is vague or refuses to answer, this can be a red flag. If you obtain information that raises a red flag, then consider your next steps, including involving your IT department to determine if information has already been taken.
  • Ask the employee for all passwords for work-related computers, devices, accounts and files and then change the passwords.
  • Conduct a return of property review, whereby the employee discloses all company information or devices in their control. Set up a procedure for their return and set a deadline. Collect all keys, access cards, badges, company credit cards, and other property.
  • Have the employee disclose what information he/she has in paper or electronic format on personal devices, at home, or in cloud-based storage. Offer assistance from IT staff in returning the information and wiping any devices. At the end of the review and collection process, have the employee sign an acknowledgment that all company property and information has been returned.
  • Create an IT protocol for terminating access to any company electronic systems (including when to cut off access) and follow it each time. This protocol should include any remote access to company systems – whether via a smart phone or laptop.
  • Consider working with a mobile device management company to better control your smart phones, or use one of the many available mobile device management apps to better manage company data on any mobile devices, including remote wiping all company data from any mobile device upon termination. Again, a protocol should be set up to insure that all devices with company information are wiped of company data.
  • If the employee is subject to confidentiality and/or noncompete agreements, employers should remind the employee of their ongoing obligations. Similarly, review any separation or severance agreement to emphasize the obligation to preserve confidential information.
  • If the employee discloses the identify of his/her new employer and that employment appears to violate the employee’s noncompete agreement, use the exit interview as an opportunity to remind the employee of any noncompete obligations and the company’s intention to enforce such obligations.
  • Immediately following the exit interview, send the departing employee a letter reminding them of continuing obligations to the company to honor any agreements – including the obligation to not use any company information.
  • Creating a process that your HR team follows during every exit interview will help you facilitate the return of company information whether that information has been purposefully taken by a departing employee, or if an employee has inadvertently retained company data.