While your employees may not owe a duty of loyalty to you personally , the Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that employees do owe their employer a duty of loyalty.
In Burbank Grease Services, LLC v. Sokolowski, an employee was accused of stealing trade secrets of the Company while employed to benefit a competitor. The Court held that “A claim for the breach of an agent’s duty of loyalty may sound both in tort and in contract.” (“Tort” is a lawyer word for lawsuits involving negligence, fraud, or an injury to a person or business)
The question then becomes, what kind of duty does the employees owe to their employer? and at what point has it been breached? The Wisconsin Supreme Court explains in Burbank Grease that if they are a “key employee” then a fiduciary duty of loyalty exists.
What does this mean?
A fiduciary duty is the highest duty there is in the law. It is generally stated as the requirement that while acting in your capacity as an employee, you are required to put the interest of the company ahead of your own interests.
The practical implications of this are that your key employees need to be acting with the company’s best interests in mind while they are employed. This is not to say that anytime an employee makes a mistake you can sue them over it, as often times in business only with the benefit of hindsight can we see that a decision or action was a bad choice.
However, if you come to find out that an employee, while employed has been working to further the interests of him or herself or a competitor at the company’s expense, you may be able to take action to prevent it or recover your losses as a result of the injury from both the employee and perhaps the competitor that induced them to breach their duty.
If you suspect that an employee or agent of your company has breached a duty of loyalty and caused harm to your company, you may have the ability to seek recourse through the courts and should contact an attorney right away.
Sean M. Sweeney is a shareholder at Halling & Cayo. His practice focuses on business litigation, civil litigation, stock broker fraud, business transnational law, and real estate law. Sean represents investors, small business owners, and companies locally in Wisconsin, all over the United States, as well as internationally with clients in Canada, Germany, and Australia.
Email Sean: [email protected]