In the recent case of Warm Zones v Thurley and another  EWHC 988 (QB), the High Court ordered that an employer was permitted to inspect and take images from the personal computers of two former employees, Ms Thurley and Mr Buckley.
Their contracts of employment stipulated express confidentiality provisions (in identical terms) preventing them from using or disclosing any confidential information about the business of Warm Zones during their employment and after their employment had terminated. During their employment, Ms Thurley and Mr Buckley had access to Warm Zones' database containing information about their customers and target customers. After their employment had come to an end, both former employees joined a competitor of Warm Zones.
Ms Thurley brought an employment tribunal claim against Warm Zones after her dismissal. During the course of the proceedings, documents came to light which suggested that both Ms Thurley and Mr Buckley had disclosed, or were willing to disclose, details of Warm Zones' database information to the competitor while they were still employed by Warm Zones. Accordingly, Warm Zones applied for an interim injunction (known as an interim interdict in Scotland) based on the improper use of the customer database and other related information. In particular, it sought an order for the inspection and imaging of their home computers.
In granting the interim injunction and making the order, the court took into account its assessment on the strength of Warm Zones' position. In particular, the Judge found that Warm Zones had invested several years and significant resources in compiling its "unique" database. Therefore, the database was deemed to have great commercial value given that it contained information that was not readily available to the public. During the proceedings, Ms Thurley's and Mr Buckley's integrity was questioned.
This case serves as a useful reminder to employers of the importance of carefully drafted confidentiality clauses and their effectiveness in protecting their business from harm following the departure of employees.