Did My Former Employee Violate His Duty Of Loyalty?

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I have terminated an employee for wrongful use of his computer in Florida, and part of his job was to contact and procure new homeowners lists for our mailouts. He used his private e-mail address for these companies to send these lists to. He was terminated on 2/14/2011 and he never took his private e-mail off his work computer. My new employee pulled up the prior employee’s e-mail only to see that he had forwarded 7 homeowner lists, that we had paid for, to another competitive company, almost a month after he was dismissed! Is this not stealing, and can I go after him for this?

You have a couple of issues here. The first is whether this employee violated his duty of loyalty. When a person is employed, he has a duty to be loyal to his employer, which means he cannot actively aid a competitor. If the employee gathered these lists and held on to them during his employment with the intent to use them against the company upon termination, he can be held civilly liable for a breach of the duty of loyalty.

If he only decided to forward the lists after his termination, you may not be able to prove that he breached his duty of loyalty. However, if you had any confidentiality or non-compete agreements with this employee, you can file a breach of contract claim against him.

An employment attorney can look at all of the facts in this case and advise you as to whether you have grounds to file a lawsuit, and whether such a lawsuit is financially worthwhile.