5 Feb 2016

Man fined for stealing company secrets

2:21 pm on 5 February 2016

A man must pay $110,058 to his former employer after divulging its secrets and helping set up a rival mobile electrical testing company.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found Graeme Hill breached parts of his employment agreement with Tex Onsite.

It ruled in Tex Onsite's favour after the company accused Mr Hill of breaching his duties of fidelity, loyalty and of not acting in its best interests.

The ERA ruled Mr Hill tried to lure Tex Onsite's customers away while still working there and convinced one of its most lucrative and longstanding clients to shift its business to a new company he helped set up, Mobile Test 'n' Cal NZ.

That was despite a clause in his agreement that he was not to solicit clients until six months after he had left.

Tex Onsite said it arranged for Mr Hill's work laptop and work phone to be forensically examined after it lost 'Customer X' to his new company.

The investigation revealed Mr Hill had used a memory stick to copy Tex Onsite's customer database, pricing and other private information. The ERA decided he broke the company's confidentiality employment clause.

Before setting up his own company, Mr Hill worked for a competitor of the company, Design Engineering, and secretly met with its staff while on a business trip for Tex Onsite.

"Mr Hill accessed and removed confidential information, deleted Tex Onsite's emails before his resignation and assisted a competitor, Design Engineering, to establish itself in the North Island thereby losing the chance to plan for this occurrence. Mr Hill took these steps while still an employee of Tex Onsite", the ERA said.

"Mr Hill was not a credible witness. Mr Hill attempted at the investigation meeting to paint a picture that his resignation in May 2014 was due to his dissatisfaction with Mr Gamble's (Tex Onsite's general manager) treatment of customers. This was not the case."

It also took exception to an online message by Mr Hill which it described as inappropriate and contemptuous of the ERA's process.

"Mr Hill posted a message on LinkedIn which in my view was derogatory of Tex Onsite and trivialised the proceedings in the authority. Mr Hill subsequently retracted the post. This is an example of Mr Hill's lack of insight in to his actions".

Mr Hill must pay damages to Tex Onsite for its projected loss of profits of $70,736 as well as for other payments for the breaches.

He must also pay a penalty for obstructing the ERA's investigation.

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