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Court allows company to search employee’s personal computer

June 14th 2021

A company has been granted permission to search an employee’s personal computer and other devices as part of its investigation into the potential misuse of confidential information.

Joanne Stronach Head of Employment & HR reports on this recent case.

The case involvedDigital Realty Trust Inc and its senior director of acquisitions, Mr Coogan.

The nature of his role meant that he had access to commercially sensitive and confidential information central to Digital’s business.

Coogan resigned from his role on 19 March 2021 and indicated that he was joining a competitor.

It was initially envisaged that he would work out his notice by working on the projects he was already engaged on without having access to confidential documents. However, discoveries were made by the IT department that gave rise to concerns that he had accessed confidential files.

He was put on garden leave, with his employment due to expire on 19 June.

His employment contract included a provision that he should protect Digital’s interests and should not do anything that would reveal confidential information.

Digital brought a claim against him on the basis that he had breached his employment contract by taking and misusing confidential information by accessing it on his work laptop. It sought an affidavit and asked Coogan to provide his personal devices including USB drives and his personal online accounts.

Coogan was prepared to offer an undertaking by consent order but refused to agree to the inspection of his personal devices.

Digital submitted that there was a serious issue to be tried, that there was a risk that the confidential information might be provided to third parties, that damages were not an adequate remedy, and that the injunction would not cause Coogan to suffer any loss.

The court granted the application subject to certain conditions to protect Coogan’s privacy. This included a provision that whatever information the independent specialists considered should be disclosed to Digital should first be provided to Coogan’s solicitors so that they had a reasonable amount of time to identify any objections.

If you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law please contact Joanne on 01228 516666 or click here to send her an email.

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