My understanding of the general gist of what a leaving employee is or isn’t allowed to take is:
Tangible stuff such as documents, contact lists, computer models are definite no-nos.
Stuff that is in the employee’s head such as technical knowledge on how a computer model works is fair game as the employee can’t be expected to forget what he has learned upon tendering his resignation.
Now what if we are talking about information that sits in the employee’s head but is something that his old company considers a competitive advantage?
Consider this hypothetical situation:
Mr X works for Company A. As part of his work in Company A, he does market research work on brokers. Over the course of his research, he uncovered some interesting information about Broker J. Broker J is a highly regarded in the industry but his reserach reveals some flaws about them so they aren’t actually as good as the market thinks. Company A obviously regards this piece of information as its competitive advantage in the market.
Now Mr X has decided to move on to Company B. His boss at Company B tells him that they are going to engage Broker J to do stuff because they are highly regarded in the industry.
The ethical dilemma is whether Mr X should be telling his new boss about the flaw he has uncovered about Broker J during his employment at Company A? Being an ethical employee, Mr X obviously didn’t take any of the research documents with him but the conclusion reached is of course still sitting in his brain. Keeping quiet will obviously not break any confidentiality issues with his prior employment in Company A, but will he then be violating his duty towards his current employer? Or should he hedge and say something along the lines of: “Let’s not jump into this. Why not let us do some research about Broker J first”?
PS: Before you ask, no, I am not Mr X (honest!) and neither is he a friend of a friend of a friend… It’s one of those hypothetical professionalism issues that’s sometimes discussed in my workplace.