Tag: employee

Keeping your Trade Secrets Safe: The Runaway Employee

How can a business protect its critical information when an employee goes to work for a competitor? Many employers simply assume that if it deems information “confidential,” the law automatically protects it when an employee leaves and goes to work for a competitor.  That’s not necessarily the case.  In order to protect its confidential information, such as intellectual property, information, systems, customer lists, pricing information and the like, an employer must take affirmative steps long before the rogue employee leaves to ensure that its information is protected.  Such information can be protected from disclosure both under Illinois common law and pursuant to the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (“ITSA”).

An employer’s trade secrets, such as its customer lists, are a protectable interest. An employer has a clear and ascertainable right in protecting its trade secrets. To show information is a trade secret under ITSA, an employer must meet two threshold requirements. First, it must show the information was sufficiently secret to provide the employer with a competitive advantage. Second, the employer must show that it took affirmative measures to stop others from acquiring or using the information. Examples of steps employers typically take to keep information confidential include keeping the information under lock and key, limiting computer access, requiring confidentiality agreements, and other employer efforts to advise employees that the information imparted to them must be kept secret. Establishing this second prong is where employers typically fall short.

Where employers have invested substantial time, money, and effort to obtain a secret advantage, the secret should be protected from an employee who obtains it through improper means. Although employees may take general knowledge or information with them that they developed during their employment, they may not take confidential information, including trade secrets. The taking does not have to be a physical taking by actually copying the names. A trade secret can be misappropriated by physical copying or by memorization. Using memorization to rebuild a trade secret does not transform the trade secret from confidential information into non-confidential information. A trade secret can also be obtained through reverse engineering

Whether and how an employer keeps information secret is one of the most important factors when determining whether information is a trade secret. When information is generally known or understood in an industry, even if it is unknown to the public at large, it does not constitute a trade secret. If a business fully discloses information throughout an industry through a catalog or other literature, it is not considered a trade secret. If the information can be readily duplicated without considerable time, effort, or expense, it is not considered a trade secret. If a customer list, for example, is generally available to all employees and the employees are not required to sign confidentiality agreements, the list is likely not considered a trade secret.

By far the most litigation in this area is over whether an employer’s customer list is a confidential trade secret.  Whether customer lists constitute trade secrets largely depends on the facts of each case.  Customer lists and other customer information can be considered a protectable trade secret if the information has been developed by the employer over a number of years at great expense and kept under tight security. However, the same type of information is not protectable where it has not been treated as confidential and secret by the employer, was generally available to other employees and known by persons in the trade, could be easily duplicated by reference to telephone directories or industry publications, and where the customers on such lists did business with more than one company or otherwise changed businesses frequently so that their identities were known to the employer’s competitors.

Illinois courts have found that customer lists do not constitute protectable trade secrets where, for example: a) the particular industry was competitive and customers often dealt with multiple companies; b) the employer had failed to produce sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the customer list was subject to reasonable efforts to protect its secrecy; and c) sufficient efforts had not been taken to maintain the list’s secrecy. To be a protectable trade secret, the employer must demonstrate the information it seeks to protect was sufficiently secret to provide it with a competitive advantage. However, for steps to be deemed sufficient to protect a trade secret, extensive steps must be taken to protect both the electronic and hard copies of the purported trade secret.

For more information regarding the protection of a company’s confidential information, please contact:

Howard L. Teplinsky at:

(312) 368-0100 or hteplinsky@lgattorneys.com

An Employer Can Be Liable for Accessing an Employee’s Personal Email Even if the Employee Engaged in Misconduct

Over the last several years, communication via email and text has become commonplace in the workplace. Oftentimes, employees use one device for both personal and work-related communication regardless of whether that device is employee-owned or employer-provided. There is no doubt that employers may have legitimate business reasons for monitoring employee communications. For example, an employee may leave the company and the employer is concerned that she has taken confidential information or illegally solicited clients. Employers feel entitled to review data stored on employer-provided, particularly where employees are instructed that the company owns the devices and has the right to monitor the data.  As a general rule, the law supports employers here.  An employer’s zeal to snoop, however, may subject it to both civil and criminal penalties under both federal and state statutes.

The Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) and the Stored Communications Act (SCA) both govern an employer’s ability to review electronic communications. The ECPA prohibits the interception of electronic communications, and the term “interception” as used in the ECPA has been interpreted narrowly. The SCA makes it illegal to “access without authorization a facility through which electronic communication service is provided,” making it illegal to obtain access to certain communications in electronic storage. With regard to an employer’s review of employee emails sent through web-based email accounts like Gmail or Hotmail, the most frequent scenario is where the former employer is able to access the former employee’s web-based email account because the employee saved his username and password on a device provided by the employer. In these cases, courts have typically sided with the former employee and have been reluctant to punish the former employee for failing to take appropriate steps to secure their own personal information and allegedly private communications.  The former employee’s own negligence in securing personal data is not a defense for the employer.

Bottom line – an employer should seek advice before accessing an employee’s personal email account without authorization even though it has the ability to do so.

For more information on this topic please contact:

Howard Teplinsky at:

312-368-0100 or hteplinsky@lgattorneys.com.

Unexpected Liability for Service Providers

With “hacking” and identify thefts becoming all too common place, each service provider must place more and more emphasis on protecting itself from legal liability caused by not only its own actions, but the actions of the company(ies) to whom it outsources. This article provides an introduction to contracting for service providers with an eye toward gaining legal platform upon which to adequately defend itself, if necessary.

In addition to government compliance, which will vary depending upon the industry, any company that collects personal information during the course of providing its services must take steps to safeguard itself from legal liability arising due to unwanted disclosures.  One way to provide a legal safety net is to consider the applicable issues in the service provider’s agreement.  The following is an abbreviated checklist.

  1. Whether personally identifiable information will be provided to service provider’s employees, and if so, what measures are taken to narrowly tailor the need to expose such information to only those employees or third parties who need to know in order to provide the service.  In considering this, a service provider may want to consider identifying types of employees or third parties that may be exposed to such information, or even listing such persons and having them sign a confidentiality agreement with respect to such information.
  2. When does a service provider have to notify a customer of a security breach?   Is there an obligation to notify customers of a potential privacy-related compliance issue?  Or, only when a security breach has occurred?  If a security breach is defined, service providers will be required to undertake all tasks from notification to remediation and payment for such remediation upon receipt of a complaint.
  3. While necessary, service providers will want to limit their contractual obligations to comply with compliance with IT management standards such as the International Organization for Standardization certification.
  4. If the service provider receives credit card information of customers, then at the very least, the following issues must be considered:
    1. Limitation of access of personal information to authorized employees or parties
    2. Securing business facilities, data centers, paper files, servicers, backup systems and computing equipment (mobile and other equip with info storage capability;
    3. Implementing network/ device application, database and platform security
    4. Securing info transmission storage and disposal
    5. Implementing authorization and access controls with media, apps, operating systems and equipment
    6. Encrypting highly sensitive personal information stored on any mobile media
    7. Encrypting highly sensitive transmitted over public or wireless networks
    8. Strictly segregating personal information from and info of service provider or its other customers so that personal information is not commingled;
    9. Implementing appropriate personnel security and integrity procedures and practices (conducting background checks, and providing appropriate privacy and info security training to service providers’ employees.

If you have any questions regarding your liability for disclosure of personal information, please contact:

Natalie Remien at:

nremien@lgattorneys.com or (312) 368-0100.

Cook County Raises Minimum Wage

On October 26, 2016, the Cook County Board passed an ordinance to gradually increase the minimum wage to $13.00 per hour by 2020. The Cook County Board’s action follows the lead of the City of Chicago which in 2014 passed an ordinance to gradually increase the minimum wage in Chicago to $13.00 per hour by 2019.

The first increase is effective July 1, 2017, raising the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10.00 per hour. The minimum wage will increase again on July 1, 2018, to $11.00 per hour; on July 1, 2019, to $12.00 per hour; and on July 1, 2020, to $13 per hour. The ordinance applies to any business or individual that employs at least one employee who performs at least two hours of work in any two-week period while physically present within the geographical boundaries of Cook County, with limited exceptions.

The ordinance also requires Cook County employers to provide notice to their employees regarding their rights under the ordinance, including: (i) conspicuously posting a notice at each facility within Cook County; and (ii) providing a written notice to employees with their first paycheck issued after July 1, 2017.

Employers are subject to significant penalties for non-compliance with the ordinance, including, but not limited to, fines in the amount of $500 to $1,000 per each day of non-compliance. The ordinance also establishes a private cause of action for employees who may recover damages against an employer in an amount equal to three times the amount of any underpayment, in addition to the employee’s attorneys’ fees and costs. An employer’s failure to comply with the ordinance may also violate other laws including the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, Illinois Minimum Wage Law, and Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which also provide for an employee’s recovery of damages, interest and attorneys’ fees.

If you have any questions regarding the minimum wage applicable to your business or your obligations under the new Cook County Ordinance, please contact:

Kristen E. O’Neill at:

koneill@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100.

New Illinois Law Provides Greater Protections for Pregnant Employees

In August 2014, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law Public Act 98-1050, which is commonly referred to as the “Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act” (the “Act”). The Act, which becomes effective January 1, 2015, provides greater protections for pregnant workers, requiring all Illinois employers to provide reasonable accommodations to any employee or job applicant for pregnancy and child-birth related conditions, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

The Act amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to include pregnancy as a protected class. “Pregnancy” is defined as “pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.” Employers are now required to provide pregnant employees with “reasonable accommodations”—the same type of accommodations employers are already required to provide to workers with temporary disabilities. Reasonable accommodations may include light duty, assistance with manual labor, and additional or extended bathroom breaks.  An employer may only refuse a requested accommodation if the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation presents an undue hardship on its ordinary business operations. The Act also prohibits discrimination in the hiring and employment of pregnant workers and those affected by a medical or common condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Employers must also post a notice regarding employees’ rights under the Act in a conspicuous location or include this information in the employer’s employee handbook.

To discuss any questions you may have about the effect of this new law on your business, please contact:

Kristen E. O’Neill at:

(312) 368-0100 / koneill@lgattorneys.com

Attention Employers and Employment Agencies: Criminal Records and Criminal Histories of Prospective Employees Off-Limits at Application Stage!

The Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act (the “Act”), a new Illinois statute, will become effective January 1, 2015. The Act restricts employers and employment agencies from inquiring about or requiring the disclosure of an employment applicant’s criminal record or criminal history at the application stage, i.e., until the employer or employment agency has determined the applicant is qualified for the position and notified the applicant that he or she has been selected for an interview or, if there is not an interview, until after a conditional offer of employment is made to the applicant.

The Act defines an employer as any person or private entity that has 15 or more employees in the current or preceding year and employment agencies as any person or entity regularly undertaking, with or without compensation, to procure employees for an employer or to procure for employees opportunities to work for an employer.

The prohibition on inquiring into an applicant’s criminal record or criminal history at the application stage does not apply for positions where: (i) employers are required to exclude applicants with certain criminal convictions from employment due to federal or state law; (ii) a standard fidelity bond or an equivalent bond is required and an applicant’s conviction of one or more specified criminal offenses would disqualify the applicant from obtaining a bond; or (iii) employers employ individuals licensed under the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act.

Employers and employment agencies are allowed to notify applicants in writing of the specific offenses that will disqualify an applicant from employment in a particular position due to federal or state law, or the employer’s policy. Therefore, if an employer has a company policy which would disqualify an applicant from being hired based on specific offenses, the employer may notify applicants in writing of that fact.

Civil penalties that apply to employers or employment agencies that violate the Act range from a warning for the first violation to a civil penalty of up to $1,500 for every 30 days that passes without the employer’s or employment agency’s compliance with the Act.

In addition to the new rules under the Act, the ban against employers and employment agencies inquiring into or using an arrest record or expunged criminal history as a basis to refuse to hire remains in effect.

To review your business’ employment application and procedures or to review your business’ policies regarding specific offenses which may disqualify an applicant, or develop a notice letter to potential employees, please contact:

Morris R. Saunders at:

(312) 368-0100 / msaunders@lgattorneys.com

or

Mitchell S. Chaban at:

(312) 368-0100 / mchaban@lgattorneys.com

Alert to Property Owners: What the Firearm Concealed Carry Act Means to You.

The Firearm Concealed Carry Act became effective on July 9, 2013, and applications for concealed carry licenses became available to Illinois residents in early 2014.

What does this mean for property owners? Generally, an owner of private property may prohibit the carrying of concealed firearms on the property under his or her control, but must do so in compliance with the Firearm Concealed Carry Act.

However, the Firearm Concealed Carry Act allows holders of concealed carry licenses to keep a firearm, subject to certain requirements, in their vehicle, even if their vehicle is located in a parking area of a prohibited location.

To determine whether you are in compliance with the Firearm Concealed Carry Act’s procedures and requirements, or to review your employee handbooks and policies generally, please contact:

Mitchell S. Chaban at:

(312) 368-0100 / mchaban@lgattorneys.com

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