Court Grants Order Allowing Employer to Inspect Ex-Employees’ Personal Computers
The High Court has made an order allowing an employer to inspect and take images from the personal computers of ex-employees it suspected of breaching their confidentiality obligations.
In Warm Zones v Thurley, two employees who left their employment with Warm Zones (WZ) and joined a competitor were suspected of having disclosed details of WZ’s customer database to their new employer whilst still employed by WZ. This was in breach of express contractual confidentiality obligations. WZ’s suspicions were aroused after emails came to light in employment tribunal proceedings brought by one of the employees, suggesting that they were prepared to disclose details of the database to their new employer.
WZ applied for an injunction seeking an order for the inspection and imaging of the employees’ personal computers. The Court accepted that WZ had spent several years and significant resources building up the database and that it contained information that was not available in the public domain. It also accepted that WZ had strong evidence of a breach of the employees’ confidentiality obligations. It could not accept the employees’ argument that they were simply “talking up” the information they had to impress their new employer. WZ had therefore shown that it would have an arguable case at a full hearing. The Court considered that damages would not be an adequate remedy for WZ and granted the injunction.
Although orders of this kind are not that common, they are very powerful. Therefore employers who have strong evidence of a suspected breach of confidentiality obligations should consider this as a potential remedy. However, orders of this kind will only be made where there is a strong likelihood that confidentiality obligations have been breached. They will not be made simply to enable the employer to go on a fishing expedition for evidence of breach.
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