Warm Zones v Sophie Thurley: High Court orders inspection of ex-employee’s computers
Ted Flanagan, Head of Employment Law at Gosschalks, discusses the recent decision in the case of Warm Zones v Sophie Thurley and what it means for employers.
The employee in this case had a confidentiality clause in her contract of employment. This prevented her from using or disclosing confidential information at any time before or after employment. She left employment and went to a competitor. She sued her former employer in the employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.
As part of the evidence disclosure, the employer discovered information which showed the employee had disclosed or was going to disclose the employer’s confidential database to the competitor. The employer applied for an injunction to inspect the employee’s home computer.
The employee argued that she was being harassed as a result of tribunal proceedings. She denied breaching confidentiality.
The Court found the employer had spent years creating this database and it had valuable information in it which was not public. The Court found that if breached, damages would be an inadequate remedy.
The Court ordered the inspection of the computers. Albeit with safeguards in place so no litigation advantage could be obtained in the employment tribunal proceedings.
What this means for you
If an employee has taken confidential information then, provided you have good evidence for this and the information is valuable (with damages not an adequate remedy), you should have good prospects of getting an injunction for either further inspection and/or delivery of the information.
The key will always be the evidence you have. The Judge was unimpressed in this case with the employee’s explanation for the evidence. She admitted the correspondence but stated that she was carrying out a ‘sales type activity’ and she was ‘talking up the data they [she] had’.
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