back to article Hey cloud lawyer: Can I take my client list with me?

You spend months or years building up a client list for your employer. You nurture the relationship and build up personal ties with the client. When you leave the employer, naturally the client goes with you. And so does the client list, via a USB stick or Dropbox or your webmail account. If you don’t get all the details before …

  1. Alister

    Suspenders?

    Those aren't suspenders, they are braces.

    Suspenders are for socks.

    This is still supposed to be a British website, isn't it?

    1. Danny 14

      Re: Suspenders?

      I thought suspenders were for my stockings?

      1. Alister
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Suspenders?

        I thought suspenders were for my stockings?

        I'm too pure and innocent to know about such things...

      2. John G Imrie

        Hi Frank

        How's Transylvania this time of year?

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon

          Re: Hi Frank

          "How's Transylvania this time of year?"

          It's tran-sexual, ta very much Brad :)

          1. John G Imrie

            It's tran-sexual, really

            I'm a sweet Transvestite

            from transsexual

            Transylvania!

          2. Ian Michael Gumby
            Alien

            Re: Hi Frank

            Ironic that you make such a reference.

            In the movie, Brad uses a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to cover him and Janet during the initial rain shower.

            And last night, Cleveland won the NBA finals.

            Coincidence?

            1. Danny 14

              Re: Hi Frank

              if my boss gets me to wear the garter AND the stockings then I insist on a mandatory paid lunch. Afterall if i'm working late then my wife will only be cooking late so i'll be hungry.

    2. LSTAR
      Holmes

      Re: Suspenders?

      Who's to say he's not also wearing suspenders?

      But that raises other questions entirely...

    3. Jeffrey Nonken

      Re: Suspenders?

      I was wondering what this thread was all about. I couldn't see the cartoon on the mobile site. Now I'm at my computer at work, I can slack off AND see the illustrations.

      What you call "suspenders" we call "garters" in the US. Your braces are our suspenders. I have no idea what "garters" are to you, so I don't know what word we use for it.

      Sometimes I think our forebears changed some word usage and certain symbols just to be spiteful. We WERE a bit ticked off at you back in the late 1700s.

      I expect the cartoon was drawn by an American artist. Sometimes American culture manages to get out and pollute your information stream. It's worse than a cholera outbreak!

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: Suspenders?

        According to God's own dictionary, a garter is "a band warn around the leg to keep up a stocking or sock. ■ N. Amer. A suspender for a sock or stocking." While a suspender is defined as, "Brit. an elastic strap attached to a belt or garter, fastened to the top of a stocking to hold it up. 2. (suspenders) N. Amer. a pair of braces for holding up trousers."

        That's almost as transparent as 200 denier black stockings. But I think we have garters and suspender belts. But you uncivilised rogues don't know what a garter is and call suspender belts garters. I may be wrong as I wear, um, tights...

      2. muddysteve

        Re: Suspenders?

        "Sometimes I think our forebears changed some word usage and certain symbols just to be spiteful. We WERE a bit ticked off at you back in the late 1700s."

        In some cases it is us Brits that have changed the words, and the American usage is closer to Elizabethan English.

        Bill Bryson wrote a very good book about it all called "Mother Tongue".

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Suspenders?

        "Sometimes I think our forebears changed some word usage and certain symbols just to be spiteful."

        While, as others have observed, the American usage often reflects older versions of English (i.e. where the English themselves changed their use of the language post-1700s), it *is* also the case that the Americans deliberately changed things round for the sake of differentiating themselves.

        Specifically, Noah Webster. 'Nuff said.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Linkedin?

    Presumably things are a bit more murky if the client data is stored on a 3rd-party site like Linkedin so you never actually move it?

    1. <shakes head>

      Re: Linkedin?

      no it is no more murky, if you create the data on a third-party system as part of you employment then the company and you are responsible under DPA.

      now if you are just linking to information that is supplied be a 3rd party (the personal details your contact loads onto LinkedIn) then you are fine as far as DPA goes specific contracts may limit what you can do with that but it is not a regulator thing.

      hope that is accurate

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Linkedin?

      LinkedIn presumes all of your contacts to be personal and part of your "personal business network".

      So storing them in the first place is something for the employer to worry about. It walks as a DPA violation, it quacks as a DPA violation, it is probably a DPA violation.

      Once stored, however, they are not company property - they are your personal property so the company cannot force you to erase them or unlearn them. It can however using standard non-compete and non-solicitation clauses force the issue for you not to be able to use any of them.

      1. DaLo

        Re: Linkedin?

        Unless there is a different LinkedIn to the one that Microsoft has just taken over then you don't store contact details of others on LinkedIn. The other party creates all their own contact details and information.

        As this is a data protection issue then and interrelated contact information is not covered by the DPA. Therefore you are down to a civil case over whether your contract in some way requires you to delete all contacts that you have made via linkedIn during your employment -I would argue impossible to enforce.

        So really it would just come down to whether you are disallowed by contract to 'poach' a customer and introduce them to your new company, but this would be generic and unrelated to LinkedIn.

        IANAL

        1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

          Re: Linkedin?

          I think you'll find anything on LinkedIn belongs to LinkedIn. Whether that's a problem for you, your old employer or your new one, I wouldn't like to say, but if you consider contacts lists as company assets then I'd have thought storing them on a social media / data mining site is a little odd.

      2. rh587 Silver badge

        Re: Linkedin?

        Once stored, however, they are not company property - they are your personal property so the company cannot force you to erase them or unlearn them. It can however using standard non-compete and non-solicitation clauses force the issue for you not to be able to use any of them.

        See, this is the bit where it seems to be a bit grey. If you're hired from Company A to Competitor B, then even if you hand all your stuff in and don't take stuff with you, you still know your customers. When you pitch for them to switch to your new employer, that relationship still exists, you know what they paid last time and you likely have a fair idea what they're being quoted by your previous employer. It's basically insider knowledge, but short of moving to an entirely new industry, it's broadly impossible to not use your experience to your advantage. You can not take that a physical list of contacts, but if it's all up in your head then where are you going to start when you start compiling a pitch-list of prospective clients?

        Obviously taking lists of sales, confidential pricing data, etc is all way out of line, but if you've memorised all that stuff, you're going to use it. It's called experience, and it's what you've been hired for!

    3. Frank Jennings - The Cloud Lawyer

      Re: Linkedin?

      Yes, more murky and will depend upon the use made. Some cases have said that it's the employee's personal account and this sits well with the LI terms. Conversely, an employee who has run the employer's LI group page, or who has uploaded contacts or who has used LI as their contacts database may have to turn it over to the employer.

    4. Ian Michael Gumby
      Boffin

      @AC Re: Linkedin?

      I think that its a bit ingenious on the part of the author.

      In the article he stated:

      -=-

      These obligations also apply to the outgoing employee. In May 2016, the Information Commissioner’s Office successfully prosecuted Mark Lloyd (his real name), an ex-employee of Acorn Waste Management Ltd in Shropshire, for emailing the details of 957 clients to his personal email address along with purchase history and commercially sensitive information prior to taking a role with a rival. In that particular case, the individual in question pleaded guilty and was fined £300, ordered to pay £405.98 costs and a £30 victim surcharge.

      -=-

      [emphasis added]

      Here's the sticky issue. You (Mark Lloyd) have formed a business relationship with the clients.

      Taking the names of the clients and their contact information (e.g. phone/email) in itself isn't going to be an issue because the relationship could extend beyond work. This has more to do with what he does with the information.

      If Mark attempts to sell the information... he's in hot water. If he passes it on to a new work colleague... he's in hot water. If he sends out a farewell email announcing he's leaving/left the company and provides his contact information... he would not be in any hot water.

      What really hurt Mark is that he didn't just take the contact info, but the sales information which is company specific and not in any shape or form personal.

      Connecting with clients on LinkedIn, aka your third party, in itself isn't an issue or anything for an employer to fret about, nor something that they could do anything legally about.

  3. Hollerithevo

    Is this so confusing?

    If you are making contacts as a result of being employed by a company, all the client data you collect is owned by the company. Yes, each is your hard work and a personal relationship, but that's how I feel about the systems I set up for my employers (I love my little systems). When I leave, they stay here.

    People know they are Doing Wrong. It's why they try to hide it by deleting texts and so forth.

    1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

      Re: try to hide it by deleting texts

      I don't doubt that in many cases what you say is true.

      However, if one was to believe the well-known quotation: "Give me six lines written by the most honest man in the world, and I will find enough in them to hang him.", then replace "me" by the employer in question, you might also consider that such "delete" actions might just show an element of caution.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Is this so confusing?

      It is confusing... If I get handed a business card by a supplier or customer, who owns the card at that point? If, say, Customer B and I find mutual interests outside of business...we remain friends even though one or both of us have moved on, who owns "us"?

      This is murkier than I thought.

  4. frank ly

    Sighs

    "She also emailed a small amount of this information to her friend, Mr Murphy (not his real name either) who worked with a third party in HR, to assist with her appeal."

    Someone in HR assisting with her appeal against her employer??

    "Shortly after she submitted her appeal, Mrs Smith’s employer became aware of her actions ..."

    What a surprise!

    1. davenewman

      Re: Sighs

      I read that as sending data to someone who worked in HR in a different company.

  5. Roger Greenwood

    It was so much simpler . . .

    . . with a roladex and a filofax.

    1. DaLo

      Re: It was so much simpler . . .

      Also covered under the DPA...

      1. Danny 14

        Re: It was so much simpler . . .

        DPA didn't exist back then, it only came into force in the mid 80's

        1. Trixr

          Re: It was so much simpler . . .

          ...and the 80s were pretty much peak Filofax, and well into the 90s. Plenty of places that weren't IT-related businesses were using paper diaries, address books and so on into the 00s (and there are still dinosaurs where I work who insist on ordering a bound diary each year).

  6. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Pen and paper and human memory

    Copy the important information using the old method of pen and paper - no audit trail to incriminate you.

    (If you are planning to leave then memorise the details of 2 or 3 clients each day and write them down after you have left the building. For most businesses the top 10 to 20 clients are the important ones and this amount of information can be extracted using human memory. This is usually legal (as well as untraceable) as using information that you remember is normally not prohibited.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pen and paper and human memory

      Copy the important information using the old method of pen and paper - no audit trail to incriminate you.

      (If you are planning to leave then memorise the details of 2 or 3 clients each day and write them down after you have left the building. For most businesses the top 10 to 20 clients are the important ones and this amount of information can be extracted using human memory. This is usually legal (as well as untraceable) as using information that you remember is normally not prohibited.)

      It depends a bit on the contract of employment you have, I guess (IANAL). Most of these contain some form of timeout period in which you are not supposed to initiate contact with former clients (large hole: if they contact you, it's not your fault but you best ensure you can prove that) - quite common with sales people and contracts in the financial sector.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Doing naughty things 101

    Don't be stupid and don't get caught

    Copy to memory stick, put in pocket and walk away, not that I've ever done this of course......

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: Doing naughty things 101

      With half decent IT external device being used / copied to should be logged (assuming external device use actually allowed in first place on the machine)

      1. DavCrav

        Re: Doing naughty things 101

        "With half decent IT external device being used / copied to should be logged (assuming external device use actually allowed in first place on the machine)"

        Everyone walks round with a camera in their pocket now. Just take photographs of the information on the screen with your personal phone.

      2. JetSetJim
        Holmes

        Re: Doing naughty things 101

        Yeah, but you do it on your cow-orkers PC when they wander off for a coffee and leave their terminal unlocked.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Doing naughty things 101

          "...do it on your cow-orkers PC when they wander off for a coffee and leave their terminal unlocked."

          Surely that is when you screenshot their desktop and icons, rotate it in paint by 180 degrees and set it as their new background while hiding all their actual icons. Doesn't leave much time for anything else.

    2. Nolveys

      Re: Doing naughty things 101

      Memory sticks are pretty easy to keister too, if security's tight.

      Kids these days have it easy, I still have nightmares about smuggling data on 3.5" disks.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Doing naughty things 101

        I'll see your 3.5" and raise you 8" floppies, 1/2" tape, boxes of punched cards and boxes of 132 column "music score" fan fold.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Doing naughty things 101

      Archive to memory stick, put in pocket before you leave.

      It surprises me how many people only start to think seriously about their exit after they have resigned or been given notice. One of the few certainties is that you will change employers, most probably several times over your career and not all of them will necessarily be expected and/or planned so it is worth being prepared...

  8. Tom 38 Silver badge

    This is so self evident it is ridiculous

    Next article entitled "Coders: You don't get to take all the code you wrote for your employer when you leave"

    1. kmac499

      Re: This is so self evident it is ridiculous

      Taking Data with you (code or customers) with the explicit purpose of using it in a direct competitor as your next employer is just plain dumb, Plus if your new employer accepts that practice, how might they treat you? and why should they trust you not to pull the same stunt with them?

      Keeping a copy of the code you've worked on, as a personal reference maybe dubious, but the next employer is hiring you for your experience. I would never copy and paste previous code or re-implement a proprietary algorithm. (e.g. Forex trades ). but in the same way as you can get coding solutions from t'interweb sometimes a previous design may be re-usable without detriment to a previous employer\client.

      1. Buzzword

        Re: This is so self evident it is ridiculous

        Paste the proprietary algorithm as a Stackoverflow question. Neither your former employer nor new employer will suspect a thing, since it's perfectly normal for a programmer's web history to consist largely of visits to Stackoverflow.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This is so self evident it is ridiculous

          If you're under NDA is also a breach of confidentiality agreement.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is so self evident it is ridiculous

      A previous (contract) employer probably regrets I did not take a code copy

      A long time after my contract there they contacted me to quote for adding some extra functionality to some software I had created when I worked there.

      The work sounded easy enough & a chunk of for a bit of coding I could squeeze in easily enough seemed OK, so I dropped by their offices a few days later, checked they were OK to give me out of hours access to do my stuff & asked them to sort me out a machine with development environment, code etc. - just stuff I needed, no access to anything I did not require for the task.

      A few days later I got an update ...it transpired someone (they never said who - so guessing v. senior) had deleted all the code base, only keeping the executable / dlls required. None of their rolling backups went far back enough to have a copy of the code.

      "Surely I had an old copy at home I could dig out" they said ... I had to gently explain that I had no copies of anything from my time there as to do so would have broken a huge number of laws relating to my employment.

      Needless to say the easy money fell through as they would have had to sort out tools to do dis-assembly / decompile from exes / dlls & then it would depend on how "readable" code was as to how painful what should have been an easy coding task would be, so I declined & suggested someone in house do it as my charges would be a lot higher given the change of task difficulty.

      A salutary lesson in only deleting if you are 100% sure something is not needed & that employer having sole ownership of your work does mean there is little an ex employee can do to help

      AC obv

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: This is so self evident it is ridiculous

        My (ex)employer has a habit of locking and/or deleting employee's accounts when the leave. If you're lucky they'll grudgingly give access to their personal drive to a line manager so that some files can be recovered. This has caused significant inconvenience to all over the years as people have left so I leave the code on a public (accessible to the group) directory and left my password lying around "just in case".

        Its just that management doesn't think, with few exceptions they neither understand nor listen. So I try to keep all my 'personal' stuff open -- there really isn't anything confidential at work so you'd be dumb to keep anything that's compromising there. (You just need to control write access to prevent accidents.) The only real issue I have is with things like the GPL. The 'we own everything' management mindset tends to extend to things like the Linux kernel -- the "we modified a driver so its obviously company property" sort of thing. Trying to explain to management (sigh!) what can and what can not be kept confidential is tedious....timewasting....an exercise in masochism.....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This is so self evident it is ridiculous

          Leaving your password around is a security issue. Everything done with it may make you liable.

          I had several time issues with employees refusing to understand whatever they do on a company system is a company property. Some of them tried to format and wipe drives (unluckily programmers often need high privileges), up to a point they needed to be cut out from the systems before they could do any damage (usually these are also the ones who "forget" to check-in and store properly everything needed). And still some whined we were trying to "inspect their machines" while we only wanted to ensure nothing needed was lost because they forget to put it in the right place (there has been projects outside my reach so badly managed packages could be built only on a specific dev system).

          While I could have understood it twenty years ago when people didn't have internet at home, no smartphones, tablets, etc., what the hell now you keep on a company system you have to attempt to wipe it when leaving?

          But probably the two things are correlated, the worst employee are also the one who need most to wipe their disks...

        2. Tom 38 Silver badge

          Re: This is so self evident it is ridiculous

          The only real issue I have is with things like the GPL. The 'we own everything' management mindset tends to extend to things like the Linux kernel -- the "we modified a driver so its obviously company property" sort of thing.

          If your company modifies a GPL driver, then they do in fact own the modifications. They don't even have to share the modifications with anyone or push it upstream*, provided that the driver is not distributed in binary form.

          * But they should, it gets the modifications checked by a wider audience, and stops the new functionality bitrotting in a private repo when the driver is updated upstream, plus it's good to not be a dick

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is so self evident it is ridiculous

      Guess it's quite useful to stress the trouble you can hit if you're "naive". I have a sysadmin colleague, which has been often asked lately to export email accounts of people moving from our subsidiary to others inside the same parent company (separate mail systems, they were re-imported in the new ones). Once I caught him doing that instead for an executive actually *leaving* the company. He was so stupid he didn't understand he was helping committing a crime, and could have been liable. He has been working for a so long time for that executive, and they were in friendly terms, thus he wasn't able to separate his duties as a company sysadmin from his friendship, and understand the damage he could have caused to the company he still works for, and to himself.

      Ethics and common sense are less common than many believe. While lack of laws knowledge is more common than believed.

    4. Frank Jennings - The Cloud Lawyer

      Re: This is so self evident it is ridiculous

      "This is so self evident it is ridiculous"

      Yes, and yet it still happens all the time with the predictable outcome!

  9. Buzzword

    Steganography

    Just hide the client list / source code / whatever in a bunch of cat JPEGs and email them to yourself, subject line "Office humour". Bonus points for encrypting the content before concealing it.

    1. Buzzword

      Re: Steganography

      Why the thumbs down? Yes it's illegal; but it's fun to imagine creative ways of breaking the rules. That's half the reason we read the comments section, ffs.

      1. Danny 14

        Re: Steganography

        someone probably downvoted you as disguising something as "office humour" is no laughing matter.

  10. TeeCee Gold badge
    Facepalm

    ... was fined £300, ordered to pay £405.98 costs and a £30 victim surcharge.

    ...and if the contacts weren't worth at least a grand to you, you wouldn't have bothered snaffling them in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Combined with the low probability of getting caught, a fine at this level is almost saying you'd be stupid not to steal the client list.

      1. Frank Jennings - The Cloud Lawyer

        Yes, the fine is pretty lame but I don't much fancy Mr Skelton's jail sentence...

  11. Mage Silver badge

    Initial Contract

    Ensure your employment contract says that IP and clients you bring are still yours.

    That creative IP you make subsequently is yours, though the company has a time limited exclusive contract to exploit it, or else you are a serf.

    That clients you add via your personal magnetism subsequently are yours, ultimately, but the company can exploit them while you work there, otherwise you are serf.

    Perhaps stop employers creating false redundancies to get "cheaper" less experienced staff and regarding people merely as a resource to be used up and burnt out.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Initial Contract

      'Ensure your employment contract says that IP and clients you bring are still yours.

      That creative IP you make subsequently is yours, though the company has a time limited exclusive contract to exploit it, or else you are a serf.'

      Riduculous and impractical, developers are paid to develop IP by their employer. The end client is paying to own the IP developed or at least the right to use it and continue to use it under known and legally risk free conditions. How on earth can that work if every individual developers owns what they develop? What if one guy in a team of twenty decides not to license his IP?

      I came across somebody with the same viewpoint as a job applicant once. He made me sign an NDA to discuss an idea he wanted to patent and which he had developedand for which he was in dispute with his current employer. He wanted me to exempt it from our standard contractual terms for IP ownership if he continued to develop it on his own time. I would have consdiered this if it was genuinely independant from what his employers IP. It turned out to be squarely based on his existing employers technology which he had been employed to extend. He seemed to think that despite his job function being to develop this technology and despite him being paid to do so and doing it on his employers time it was in some way unfair his employer should own the IP because he had thought of one specific variation on the techniques they had already patented. I would call this dishonest but I think it was actually some sort of cognitive problem. He really thought he should own the patent concerned.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "That creative IP you make subsequently is yours"

      Not if you are an employee. If are employed, anything you develop is the company's IP. Even if you develop it on your own time, the company might be able to claim it if it has anything to do with anything that the company has produced or is developing.

      Even if you come out with something after contract termination, you had better make sure that nothing can be traced back to your company because, if they sue you, you're going to be in hot water for a good while.

      The short of it is ; if you want your work to be your own IP, go freelance.

      I have been a consultant developer for nigh two decades now. All of the work I have done for my customers is theirs, I do not for a second consider that I have any right to it. All of the work I have done for my employees is the same, not mine.

      However, I have the experience. I have written the code, sweated the bugs, found the solutions. That is my IP and no one can take it from me. And that is why, today, old customers are still calling on me. They know they can count on me to solve their problems.

      But the code is theirs.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Initial Contract

      That will never happen, but if know you can create valuable IP, and can't do it outside a company (because of the investment/resources needed), ask before being employed how the company rewards IP, patents and innovations from employees. And ensure the rules are written in the contract.

      If you have a bright idea, and it is unrelated from your actual work, develop and keep it away from company systems and company time. If you happen to pursuit it on them, your company can usually claim it. If it is related to your job, they may try to claim the IP as well.

      About customers, unless you're an external agent with his or her customers, I don't know if you ever find a company that employs you and accept the customers are yours.

  12. MonkeyCee

    So.....

    Just to be clear, being in contact with your old clients, as long as you use *nothing* from the old business (contact client through publicly accessible means) and having them take their business to you, is not illegal, assuming no non-compete.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: So.....

      AIUI correct.

      If you arrive at your new employer, and then sit down and write down as many contacts as you can remember, I don't believe there is anything to stop that. Similarly if you've kept personal notes with nothing more than names and contact numbers - though that's heading towards a grey area (at what point does this stop being just your notes, and become "processing data" or become part of your employers data ?)

      This is an area the article really should have covered. There's a big difference between taking copies of data, and "knowing who your contacts are".

      There may be clauses in your old contract prohibiting you from contacting (trying to poach) them - but as the article points out, such clauses are on dodgy ground.

      There are parallels with the world us techies inhabit as well. A programmer will almost certainly have some bits of code in his head - maybe not an error free verbatim copy he could type out, but at least the outline of some bits. If faced with the same problem to solve, it's likely to result in the same code - or something quite similar. An unscrupulous ex-employer could try and argue that the new code breached his copyright ...

      As an aside, it was interesting to follow the Samba vs Microsoft case. In that, the EU forced MS to make documentation available on the protocols used - but not the code used to implement those protocols. The amusing thing was when MS (apparently with no sense of irony) stated that they didn't have documentation for a lot of it ! But the agreement specifically covered two topics :

      1) That some problems naturally had a single solution/method of implementation - so similarity between implementations wasn't to be taken as copyright infringement

      2) That when the access arrangement ended for any individual, they were free to continue using whatever they carried in their memory.

      Some parallels there.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: So.....

        If you arrive at your new employer, and then sit down and write down as many contacts as you can remember

        Not the right thing to do, as that list now belongs to your new employer! If however you did this in your own time and contributed an edited copy of your list to your new employer things are a little different.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "such clauses are on dodgy ground"

        "There may be clauses in your old contract prohibiting you from contacting (trying to poach) them - but as the article points out, such clauses are on dodgy ground"

        Depends on your jurisdiction rules, and how well laid out is the contract. Usually, some limits apply (duration, area covered, etc.) and an employee can't be unreasonably barred from finding a new job. Also, in many countries a noncompete agreement requires a financial compensation to be paid to the employee.

        Many companies are IMHO stupid, and try to write too broad agreements hoping the employee is simply scared and doesn't try to challenge them in court. Just, those agreement are usually easy to be declared void. They would be better protected by clever clauses, but PHBs and their lawyers are usually too greedy.

        I have such an agreement and it adds a nice amount of money to my salary. Of course it could make finding a new job a little more difficult.

        Unless something is patented, and no agreement is valid - you may re-create it from scratch - and there's good chance it will look a lot alike, each programmer has his or her own style. It could become an issue of proving if the code was stolen, or a clean room implementation. It may become something very alike the Google-Oracle case... and make lawyers richer.

  13. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    Willie Eckerslike

    Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO

    As soon as I read his name, I found myself thinking of Willie Eckerslike*. In light of the toothless enforcement reported in the article it seems appropriate.

    * I thought this was just the name of a character invented by the much-missed Victoria Wood, but It seems to have wider currency.

  14. James 51

    What's to stop you giving your client list a call to say 'Cherrio, I'm off to greener pastures at x. Not sure who/y will be handling your account in the future. Good luck.'?

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Ah, that depends ...

      There are different ways of interpreting your actions - especially if you add "would you like me to get in touch when I'm there ?". Such an action would amount to a breach of contract (either express or implied) between you and your current employer - gross misconduct. But if the person did agree, then you have their permission to keep their contact details for your new employer.

      It is, of course, why many employers take what may seem extreme actions when given notice. If you read some accounts, at some places you'll be immediately taken into a manager/director's office for a chat - and by the time you come out, all your access has been revoked and there'll be someone stood by your desk with a box to out your stuff in before they escort you out of the building. That is one extreme.

      At the other extreme, one place I worked at there was such poor communication that sometimes we only knew of a new start when they (or their manager) complained that they'd been there a week and still didn't have a phone or computer - or someone would mention that "we've not seen Fred for a while, is he OK ?" only to be told that he left 3 months ago !

      1. James 51

        In my last job I had four weeks leave built up. Handed my notice in and was told I might get paid that but I wouldn't know until a month after I left and it was entirely at the mercy of the HR boss I'd just had a massive row with. I staid two days for the sake of decency and handing stuff off to the rest of my team and that was me out of there.

  15. Maty

    Hmm ...

    What if you develop a 'personal' relationship with a client? E.g. you exchange gifts on birthdays and Xmas, play golf together etc. Presumably changing jobs does not mean you have to break off all your previous relationships (or there would be many fewer lobbyists from big business).

    So can you argue that yes, you handed over all the contact details for Mr Megabux, CEO of Bigbiz Ltd. But you kept the details of Sam Megabux, your occasional bridge partner at the country club.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    Copying a client list is a stupid thing to do...

    There's much more at stake here than merely the protection of personal data. Sure; as a sales person or whatever you may have kept a personal relationship with your clients. But never forget that you were also representing a company and offered specific services which your client(s) liked. You were a big part of it, sure, but it didn't fully evolve around you but what you had to offer them. Also: without the company you worked for you would most likely never have met your clients in the first place, so is that data really yours to take? I beg to differ.

    And that's what some people don't really get. I've experienced this situation myself a few times where a contact person switched jobs and then suddenly contacted me again and yeah, he had good news: he could offer better services. Cautious as I always am I listened to him, learned that he had switched jobs and then it was time for me to play the devils advocate. What the <censored> was he thinking? Sure I liked to keep in touch with my contact person, but my primary concern was what the company he represented had to offer me.

    I did not like it one single bit and have contacted both his previous employer as well as the new company he was representing and made it very clear that if they pulled a stunt like that again then I would file an official complaint, at the very least for spamming and intrusion, and I demanded that my contact info was to be removed from their database(s).

    Just because you found a new job doesn't mean that I have to like the new company you represent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Copying a client list is a stupid thing to do...

      Yup - I had recruitment consultants pull that one. Which meant they got in trouble for both copying information and for not respecting my explicitly expressed demand to them at their previous outfit for DELETING my data (as I have zero interest in recruitment people now - passed that need ages ago).

    2. Eion MacDonald

      Re: Copying a client list is a stupid thing to do...

      If you "follow a person" who changes jobs, there are very great litigation possibilities, as it may be statutory criminal, (gaol & fine), civil offence (damages) , inability to practice in future if you (self or company) need to be licensed. e.g. scene: Person A leaves, contacts old client, Person B at client ; client swaps allegiance or places new work with Person A at his new firm. BOTH A and B and B's company and A's new company can have a lot of problems. Ultimate well understood penalty for this at national level is Petty Treason (Gaol) or Treason (Death penalty) and a lot of case history over many centuries. NDAs apply at personal, firm and National levels. Just do not transfer information obtained via one employment or consultancy to another.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Copying a client list is a stupid thing to do...

      You are a sanctimonious prick.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm astonished..

    .. so many posts about how to do it anyway, few about the fact that taking client details is rather unethical (let alone potentially illegal).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Independent contractor?

    What if you're an independent contractor? Contractors own their own work product; the client only owns the final deliverable. But a lot of businesses call employees contractors so they can avoid payroll taxes (also illegal, of course). So if you're a contractor with access to the company's lists, or who has built relationships in the service of the company but technically you work for yourself, who owns that data?

  19. MrTuK

    How does this effect a person with photographic memory that just remembers all the important clients and their contact numbers ?

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Not very well.

      Even people without photographic memories remember the name of their most important contacts, and which company they work at well enough to google the company and get the reception phone number.

      I know, because I have had a few suppliers call me having moved jobs who have done this and even got through our receptionist who knows full well my enthusiasm for sales calls is zero and has my explicit blessing to stonewall and or just hang up on salesdroids. While they couldn't remember the price lists they didn't need to. They just offered a price with a generous discount to give me a reason to change suppliers.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hmm

    If you have a relationship with a contact that existed before and after leaving a company then I would say that this is something you could be said to own over your employers.

    If you take a copy of the client list of a company that existed before you joined your last company then you clearly are copying something that belonged to your previous employer.

    If on the other hand the contacts choose to contact you after you left then there is little that can be done about this, the contact wants you rather than the employer. So if the contact is yours then they will communicating via a personal email/mobile etc rather than that of your employer.

    I always used my own personal mobile in addition to company contact methods, if I am going to work unpaid and out of hours to maintain a client then it will be via my personal mobile/email and should a client choose to call me on my personal mobile then that client has added me to theirr contact list. When I leave a company then I will ofc contact my own personal list to let them know I have moved so they know that calling me after a particular date will be for matters unrelated to my previous employer.

    I have had company mobiles in the past and received work calls out of contacted hours, calls that could have waited or to tell me things I already knew. This is why those mobiles stay with my employer when I leave each day. The number of times that peers have messed something up by "just trying to help" and then calling me to get the problem they created fixed with the result that I was married to their incompetence became too much of a problem. If the employer really does insist upon me taking the company mobile home then as I had to leave it on charge when I went out then I was unable to answer, so sorry.

    To be honest anyone taking a direct copy of a client database/email list away with them is theft and also stupid when the client can choose you over your employer.

  21. Francis-101

    Good Evening,

    I have just started to close down my business, but not completely!

    I have just made my employee redundant.

    During working for me, I sourced, provided and booked all customers for him!

    He refused to sign a restrictive covenant.

    I have just been contacted by one of my regulars to say he contacted them to offer his services, and also to put down my services as basically rubbish.

    When he was made redundant, when asked if he had destroyed all paper and electronic copies of customer details, he confirmed yes by text.

    Can I ask if and how I prosecute/stop him from using the customer data?

    Regards

    Francis

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      >Can I ask if and how I prosecute/stop him from using the customer data?

      Phone your solicitor.

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