Public disclosure of confidential information is easier than you think
October 1st, 2018
Tina Syring at Cozen O'Connor
This blog was written by Tina Syring at Cozen O'Connor, which authors our Minnesota Human Resources Manual, New York Human Resources Manual, and Pennsylvania Human Resources Manual. You can find the original post and their HR Headaches blog (good stuff) on their website.
Do You Know What Your Employees Are Talking About In Public? How To Avoid The Inadvertent Disclosure of Your Company’s Confidential Information
Imagine this scenario: Your top sales representative is traveling for work. He has a briefcase with your company’s logo on it. He decides to stop at a restaurant at the airport before catching his flight. While at the restaurant, he makes several calls to update various people about how his sales meetings went and he identifies each client with whom he met. He shares a plethora of information in each call, including detailed pricing discussions, push-backs by the clients, and product concerns. He also announces that he chose to not disclose a critical piece of news regarding possible trade issues with another country. Of course, all of these discussions occur within an ear-shot of numerous people, including, unbeknownst to your sales representative, a competitor.
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. Indeed, last week while I was traveling on a business trip, I overheard all of this information while a gentleman near me was on his phone. Of course, I was not the competitor in this scenario, but what if I had been?
Most companies take extensive steps in on-boarding a newly hired employee about the employers’ confidential information and non-disclosure policies. Often times, employers will have the new employee sign a non-disclosure agreement whereby the employee agrees to not disclose or share the company’s confidential information and trade secrets. Some companies go a step further with a reminder that the company’s information is to be kept confidential each time the employee logs on to his or her computer. And, most times, that is all the training and information provided to the employee during the course of his or her career.
As a result, employees like our sales representative in this scenario commonly forget what can and cannot be discussed in public about the company’s confidential information. So while employers believe they are being proactive in terms of having non-disclosure agreements and policies, that simply is not enough if the employee forgets these obligations when working outside the brick-and-mortar of the company office.
So what can an employer do? Obviously, it is important to have sound policies regarding an employee’s obligations to maintain and protect the company’s confidential business information. Further, non-disclosure agreements are a method by which employers can legally protect their confidential information both during and after the employee’s tenure with the company.
In addition to these measures, employers should conduct regular training with its employees about what is considered confidential business information and what employees must do to protect this information. This training should include real-life scenarios like the one described above so that employees can fully understand what they must do to avoid the inadvertent disclosure of such confidential information.
Finally, employers should consider conducting an annual audit of the processes and measures they are taking to protect their confidential information. For example, does the company require employees to regularly change both their computer and mobile device passwords? Does the employer require an additional security log-in for mobile devices? Is the company marking its confidential business information as “Confidential and Property of ABC Corporation”? And, does the employer limit access to its confidential business information?