A frisson of alarm went through the business world when the Saatchi brothers walked out of the company they had founded, taking with them a clutch of senior executives and clients. This multiple departure amply demonstrated the management mantra that a company's chief assets are its people. When an executive departs with market information or customers, along with his P45, the results can be very costly.
The standard defence against this threat is a restrictive covenant
in the employment contract forbidding employees from taking competitive advantages with them when they change jobs. But in the real world most restrictive covenants are so drafted they would never be upheld in a court of law, says Guy Abbis, an employment lawyer with Bristol-based solicitors Veale Wasbrough. 'Restrictive covenants tend to be put willy-nilly into everyone's employment contract, from the managing director to the tea-lady, which makes them universally inappropriate,' says Abbis. 'Each covenant must be tailored to the individual's job and the particular proprietary interest that the employer is trying to protect.'