Is it possible to inspect a former employee’s personal computer?
In Warm Zones v Sophie Thurley, the High Court granted an interim injunction allowing an employer, at its own expense, to instruct an independent computer expert to inspect and take images from the personal computers of two former employees.
The former employees were accused of having copied and/or disclosed a customer database to a competitor whilst still employed by Warm Zones. Their employment contracts contained express confidentiality provisions prohibiting them from using or disclosing any confidential information during employment.
When deciding whether to grant the interim injunction, the court took into account the strength of the employer’s claim and the time/resources used to create the confidential information. There was strong evidence (in the form of emails) that suggested the employees had disclosed, or were prepared to disclose, information from a database containing data about householders. It was unlikely that the employees would be able to provide alternative explanations for their actions and in the event that they could not, damages would not have been an adequate remedy for Warm Zones.
This decision is interesting because it is unusual for courts to order the inspection and imaging of a party’s computers, particularly when, as in this case, the employees had already agreed to provide affidavits and to deliver up soft and hard copies of what was on their computers.
If you are considering seeking an injunction against a former employee it is important to remember that you must:
- obtain as much evidence as possible of the individual’s wrong doing;
- move quickly; and
- consider what steps can be taken to protect your customers/other employees.