Case Study

Theft of intellectual property


Theft of intellectual property

What was the HR situation?

  • It was noted by a line manager in a recruitment and marketing company, that one of the sales team had not been meeting their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with regards to contacting potential clients and candidates.
  • Their system activity was incredibly low, as if they had been absent for several days in February of this year. 
  • On investigation with IT, it appeared that the member of the sales team was copying and pasting large amounts of data into spreadsheets, emailing the spreadsheets to a non-business address, before deleting the email from sent items.
  • One of the Company Directors contacted Birch HR to ask for urgent HR advice as he was concerned about theft of intellectual property, their client/candidate database being shared with a competitor and breaches of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  

How did the Birch-HR Consultant(s) support?

  • Our Birch HR Consultant supported the Directors to consider their options, to formulate the specific allegations, carry out a fair suspension meeting, and to guide through the investigation process, including supporting with fact finding and the collation of a factual evidence based disciplinary report. 
  • The evidence gathered during investigation revealed that not only has information on the Company clients and candidates been downloaded and sent to a third party, but the member of the sales team  had also been sending sensitive data of job to a business owner who was not a client of the company, as a favour to them.
  • The investigation report, relevant fact finding was prepared and the appointed investigating person made a recommendation, amongst other things, to proceed the matter to a formal disciplinary hearing.
  • As the organisation was small, and both Directors were involved in the suspension and investigation, a Birch HR consultant chaired the disciplinary hearing on behalf of the client. 
  • The investigation report was shared with the employee and appropriate notice to attend the disciplinary hearing was given. The case was managed in line with the Company disciplinary policy, but this was out of date. 
  • The significant HR experience and the ability to quickly get to grips with their unique disciplinary policy, provided clarity about the process and enabled the situation to be dealt with in a fair and balanced way. The Business that the Director’s had built was at risk due to theft of their data, and Birch HR helped them to take a level-headed approach to managing the situation with their employee based on the facts and a compliant process.
  • The Birch HR Consultant wanted to ensure that a fair process was carried out. Knowing that the employee was not represented, they offered to guide the employee through what a disciplinary hearing would look like, so that they could prepare.
  • The employee, having been given adequate notice of the hearing which was scheduled to take place during normal working hours, was suddenly unable to attend the hearing. The Company were notified less that 30-minutes in advance to say that they needed to collect their child from school. 
  • Birch HR advised that the Company hold the hearing an hour later that day to allow for collecting their child from school and arranging any afterschool childcare. 
  • The employee was informed of the agreement to delay the hearing, but there was no reply or further communication.
  • The employee failed to attend the hearing at the new time.
  • The Birch HR Consultant advised the Directors of the risks of going ahead in the employee’s absence. The process had been fair, the correct notice was provided and a delay to the meeting time was provided to accommodate their emergency childcare needs. It was also discussed that if the hearing went ahead and the allegations substantiated, there is the right of appeal, and the company policy allowed for a re-hearing in certain circumstances.  

What was the outcome and how did HR add value?

  • The hearing went ahead as an hour later than scheduled. 
  • The Director presented the evidence to support the allegations, including the IT reports and copies of emails to third parties.
  • It was also noted that theft of intellectual property was defined in the contract of employment as grounds for dismissal.
  • The data breach was managed by the Director and the IT/data specialist.
  • The employee was summarily dismissed in their absence, with a detailed letter outlining the evidence that supported each of the allegations turned around the same evening so that the employee was not left waiting for an outcome for an unreasonable period of time.
  • The employee did not appeal the decision and has made no further contact, save for return of company property via a courier.


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