HUMAN RESOURCES

Your Employees Are Stealing (And They Don't Even Feel Guilty)

Your data is following your employees out the door. How to stem the tide.
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Ever email a document to your home email account? What about transferring some specs to your iPad so you can study them on your flight? Did you delete them when you were done with them?

You probably answered yes, yes, and no. Intellectual property is so easily transferred from device to device that we don't think about it being property the same way our office chair is property. When someone quits a job, they wouldn't think about packing up their desk and filing cabinet and hauling it out to the parking lot. And if someone did, I bet you'd try to stop them. ("Hey, Joe! Put the desk down!")

But 50 percent of employees who left jobs in 2012 (either by choice or by involuntary termination) took confidential data with them, according to a new survey by Symantec. And 40 percent of those employees plan to use that data in future jobs.

A full 62 percent of employees say that it's okay to transfer data to personal devices, and the majority never delete it, because they don't think it's important to do so. Additionally, Symantec found that 56 percent of people believe that it is okay to use a competitor's confidential data, which means that your employees could be sitting at their desks right now violating intellectual property law. (And some probably have in the past and some probably will in the future.) This puts your company at risk, even if you didn't ask them to do it.

How do you stop this from happening? There's never going to be a 100 percent solution, but here are 5 ideas to help keep your data safe and make sure you aren't violating any intellectual property laws.

Give 'em what they need. Smart phones, laptops, and iPads are expensive. You may feel it's more practical to require employees to use their personal phones for business. And since you already paid for a laptop (or desktop computer), you don't really see the need for an iPad. Think again. Consider shelling out the money for the smart phone. Let your employees use it for personal calls, so they don't have to take two with them everywhere, but when they quit, the phone gets handed back to you, along with any uploaded data.

Make it clear. It should go without saying that employees shouldn't take data when they leave an organization. Unfortunately, maybe it needs to be said: The survey show most employees are doing it and don't even think it's wrong. If you don't want your data walking out the door, speak up. You need a specific data policy whether your company has two or 2,000 employees.

Tell new hires you hired them for their brains. While it's tempting to make use of a previous employer's data that your new employee has sitting in his personal email account, it could open your company up to a lot of trouble. As part of your new hire paperwork, consider including a document which clearly states that use of another company's intellectual property is prohibited.

Data check at the door. Turnover happens. Whether your employee is leaving for a "new opportunity"or you're kicking him to the curb, ask specifically if he has any confidential information on personal devices. State clearly that it needs to be removed and have your lawyer draft a document for him to sign saying that he has removed all such data.

Don't forget hard copies. Most of your intellectual property resides in electronic formats. But, some people work best off hard copies and make liberal use of printers. Remind people that, while it's fine to work from home on a project, all documents should be shredded or returned to the office when that project is finished. 

Your intellectual property is what makes your company great. Don't let it get away from you.

Last updated: Feb 8, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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