Protecting confidential company information
In a UK study of 2,000 workers, 24% of respondents admitted to email misuse and purposely sharing sensitive business data over email.
Confidential corporate data can be revealed in a variety of ways for different reasons – malicious conduct, social media slip-ups, carelessness and even coercion can cause an employee to share too much information. For example, a disgruntled employee may be unhappy with the way their employer treated them or they may wish to get some sort of revenge on a co-worker who was bullying them.
Something like Irn Bru’s recipe is considered to be a trade secret and can be protected in the UK either through a common law action for breach of confidence, or a breach of contract action if an employee was to share it. Trade secrets are protected without any procedural formalities. However, to qualify for protection in the UK through common law, certain elements need to be present to constitute a breach of confidence, including:
- unauthorised use of the information
- obligation of confidence.
If there has been an incident or termination of employment and the employer suspects that an employee is about to disclose confidential information, then the employer can seek a court order (injunction) that would prevent the employee from disclosing or using that information.
Alternatively, if the information has already been disclosed, the employer can seek an order for prohibition on further use and damages if loss has occurred.
While introducing workplace policies and clauses may help to deter employees from divulging company information, it is also wise to focus on company culture and make everyone aware that it is their responsibility to protect trade secrets in order to prevent them from sharing with the public.
Employers should educate on the importance and value of company information.
Employers should also set clear boundaries at the outset of the relationship – considering express contractual clauses and preparing clear social media and other policies that address what information the business considers confidential and how that information should be treated.