Here are extracts from a letter that crossed my desk – I record it here so you may copy it or ignore it if similar comes your way.

Dear Sir/Madam: Best of luck on your new position. This is to notify you of your ongoing obligation to honor your confidentiality obligations which accrued during your employment with our company. You became familiar with confidential and trade secrets relating to clients, projects, and business practices, and our current employees. We expect you to: (1) conscientiously avoid misuse of such information; and (2) not violate confidentiality. Please do not attempt to offer employment with your new employer to current staff of our company. If you do, we will scrutinize your actions and take whatever action is legally appropriate to protect our interests.

Get a lawyer if you need to send out a letter like this to a former employee. Ignore this letter if you get one like it. Here are some reasons for this advice.

If you did not sign a non-disclosure agreement, a non-compete agreement, or make other promises when you joined the now ex-employer, there is virtually nothing they can do to stop you. Of course if you did agree to be silent about trade secretes and confidential information when you joined the company, you are legally bound to do so.

Nobody can stop you using your brains or brawn to earn a living. Minds and muscles develop from use. You used them in your former employment and you must use them now in your new employment. Thus if you became skilled in a particular computer code or accounting procedure or mining method, you old employer can not stop you using those skills in your next job.

My understanding is that not much can be done if you induce an employee from your former company to leave and join you in your new company. I suspect the threat to take “whatever action is legally appropriate” is bluster and utterly unactionable. To tell someone they cannot leave a company and join another company amounts to slavery.

The lesson learnt from all this is that as an employer you should clearly spell out in agreements signed when you first engage a person what is expected of them regarding trade secrets and confidentiality obligations. And as a former employee free of the constraints of employment agreements, do not be intimidated by cheap lawyers.