SHHHHH! IT’S A SECRET-Does your workplace have a Confidentiality Agreement?

What Every Employee and Employer Needs to Know About
Confidentiality & Non-Disclosure Workplace Agreements

By: Atty. Steve Rosenberg 

When you think of company secrets, you perhaps think of a defense contractor building high-tech laser guided weapons.  But the accounting firm down the street, the local hair salon, and even your trusty auto mechanic all possess secret or confidential information that it may want to protect.  Not many people realize that something as simple and rudimentary as a business’ customer or client list, can be considered secret or confidential information.  “Protected Information” can vary from employer to employer.  Consequently, it is important for every employee to understand exactly what information is considered “protected” in their particular workplace.

Whether you work for a Fortune 500 company or a small “mom
and pop” business, chances are that when you were hired, you signed either a document acknowledging receipt of an Employee Handbook, or some other type of Employment Contract or Agreement, containing language whereby you agreed to refrain from sharing certain company information.

Non-Disclosure or Confidentiality Agreements are becoming more and morecommon in the workplace, as businesses attempt to gain and protect their competitive edge.  As a result, an increasing number of employees are routinely being asked to sign these agreements when they begin a new job; and do so – without fully understanding the legal ramifications of what they have signed.  Many new employees are unaware that they can still potentially be held liable or even terminated from their employment, if they unintentionally disclose their employer’s protected information, whether or not the inadvertent disclosure resulted in actual harm to the employer.

For example, Google made headlines recently for firing an employee who leaked a “Confidential” memorandum it had distributed to all of its 23,000employees, which announced a pay hike for all company employees.  Although the leaked Memorandum presented Google in a favorable light, it was considered “confidential”, and thus, the offending employee was terminated – sending a chilling reminder to all Google employees of the importance of understanding exactly what are considered company secrets,  and the ramifications for revealing them.

What should an employee do to protect him or herself when accepting a new job?  Whether you are being considered for a full-time, high level position or a part-time summer job, do not sign anything unless you fully understand it first.  It is not rude, but in fact is considered smart to ask a potential employer for a copy of the Employment Contract or Agreement to read on your own time, and at your own pace, or even to have an attorney review it with you, to explain the terms and answer any questions you may have, before you sign.  Make certain you understand exactly what your employer considers to be proprietary workplace information.  For example, if one your new employer’s clients is a local news celebrity, disclosing that information could be a violation of the company’s confidentiality policy, and grounds for dismissal.

If you have already signed an agreement or contract of some type upon accepting new employment, but are unsure or unclear about exactly what it is you  have signed, request a copy from your employer.  It is imperative to know and understand all the terms and conditions of your employment; and within your legal rights to request a copy of everything contained within your personnel file.

As Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Agreements become more common in the workplace, employees need to become more diligent in educating themselves as to their potential employer’s expectations.  Our employment attorneys can explain any language you might find confusing, and educate you as to your rights, so you understand exactly what this legally binding contract means to you.

On a personal note, my teenage son, who works for a major department store during the summer months, disclosed that he had to sign an employment document which prohibits him from disclosing company information.  He did not have me review the document for him prior to signing (naturally!), but hopefully, his tipping me off ahead of time, of the store’s plans to offer a big sale on golf gear, is not a violation!  ;)

Whether you are an employer or an employee, we would be happy to answer all of your employment related questions concerning confidentiality agreements and other workplace compacts.  Contact us at South Shore Law and we can help protect your interests. Everyday, our lawyers who live right here on the South Shore, strive to deliver exceptional legal representation to our neighbors and friendsat affordable rates. 

The information provided in this website and accompanying materials are all presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to be comprehensive legal guidance nor be interpreted as legal advice. Communications with South Shore Law, its lawyers and agents shall not be interpreted in such a manner as to form an attorney-client relationship. To begin exploring such a relationship, consult an experienced attorney at South Shore Law by filling out the contact form or call us at 781-749-5600.