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INTRODUCTION

Confidentiality refers to not discussing internal goings-on with co-workers. In other instances, it refers to not sharing trade secrets and other company information with competitors, the press or anyone outside of your company.

WHAT TYPE OF INFORMATION SHOULD BE PROTECTED?

Confidential workplace information can generally be broken down into three categories:

Employee Information:

 Many states have laws which govern the confidentiality and disposal of “personal identifying information” (e.g., an employee’s Social Security number, home address or telephone number, e-mail address, Internet identification name or password, parent’s surname prior to marriage or driver’s license number).

Management Information: 

Confidential management information includes discussions about employee relations issues, disciplinary actions, impending layoffs/reductions-in-force, terminations, workplace investigations of employee misconduct, etc. While disclosure of this information isn’t necessarily “illegal,” it is almost always counterproductive and can seriously damage the collective “psyche” of a workplace.

Business Information:

We often times refer to confidential business information as “proprietary information” or “trade secrets.” This refers to information that’s not generally known to the public and would not ordinarily be available to competitors except via illegal or improper means.

 

Common examples of “trade secrets” include manufacturing processes and methods, business plans, financial data, budgets and forecasts, computer programs and data compilation, client/customer lists, ingredient formulas and recipes, membership or employee lists, supplier lists, etc.

“Trade secrets” does not include information that a company voluntarily gives to potential customers, posts on its website, or otherwise freely provides to others outside of the company.

With more companies adapting digital efficiencies, the challenge in preserving trade secrets, client lists and business operations becomes greater. In other words, there are higher confidential risks with storing sensitive material online or in a company database, especially if a company’s greatest asset is their intellectual property.

1. Use Employment Contracts with Confidentiality Clauses

By having new employees sign an employment contract with a confidentiality clause, they legally agree to keep confidential company information private. It also ensures employees will not compete with your business by partaking in similar business (referred to as “non-compete”), solicit other employees (“non-solicitation”) or reveal any sensitive information during or after their employment. In the agreement, it’s important to define what is and what isn’t considered confidential information to eliminate any misunderstanding of the terms. Another consideration involves the ownership of newly created material, known as “work made for hire”. This is the material an employee creates while working for a company.

The agreement should specify whether the company (owner) retains rights to the material after the employee has left the business. It is considered a breach of contract when an employee discloses sensitive information after signing the employment agreement. In this case, the employer would terminate the employee or remedy the situation as specified in the agreement. Note that confidential clauses are only as effective as the employer’s ability to enforce them.

3. Create a Response Plan & Employee Exit Procedure

Devise a response or contingency plan in the event confidential information becomes revealed. Plan for specific situations, such as published trade secrets or an employee divulging information to competitors. The more circumstances you cover, the more prepared you will be should confidentiality violations occur.

Assemble a team for the process and address how to assess the damage or risk. Include steps to secure the information or remedy the situation. Such examples may include removing information from the source, locating copies of sensitive material, taking legal action, as well as carrying out the consequences you noted in your agreement if the compromise was a result of employee negligence.

In addition to a solidified response plan, create a standardized exit process for employees. Again, this is to ensure they don’t take any confidential material with them.

Standard exit processes include an exit interview in which employees are required to submit all prior work and return company property. The exit process should also disable all employee accounts, emails, and remote cloud access to business records.

2. DEVELOP CONFIDENTIALITY TRAINING & POLICIES

In addition to teaching employees how to handle and dispose of sensitive material, include information about confidentiality laws and the legal repercussions of violating company privacy policies.

As your company grows, keeping this material up-to-date becomes more important to maintain legal protection. There are two policies employers should try to implement as part of their confidentiality training:

Social Media Policy

The social web can have harmful effects on a company’s reputation and confidentiality. Yet only 29% of companies have social media policies.

The first risk is reputation. Take the case of Domino’s Pizza in 2009. Two of its employees recorded a video of making pizza while performing crude and unsanitary behavior. They uploaded the video to YouTube and soon it had 1 million views. As a result the employees were terminated, but Domino’s reputation was already damaged. Simply put, you don’t want employees airing their grievances on Facebook, Twitter or any other social network.

The second risk is employees sharing private information in cyberspace, such as coworker personal information, potential business deals, client information, or current projects. What might seem like a harmless status update could result in severe liability for the company.

Establish a social media policy as part of your company’s efforts to preserve reputation and confidentiality. Clearly indicate the ethical guidelines for social media usage, if and how employees can speak about the company online, use of privacy settings, respecting copyright, what constitutes as confidential information, how to exercise proper judgment and the consequences of divulging information online.

If social media is part of your company’s marketing plan, designate trusted individuals to manage this space and ensure they also understand the policies inside and out.

Mobile Phone Policy

Personal mobile phone use in the workplace allows employees to instantly communicate with friends, family or competitors, and compromise data in ways that don’t seem obvious, such as taking photos, dispelling private information and uploading sensitive material to their device. A mobile phone policy should cover permitted and prohibited uses of communication devices in the workplace, as well as the consequences for violation of the policy.

 

 

 

WORKPLACE PRIVACY

Workers are often accustomed to personal privacy in their private lives, but employers aren’t necessarily obligated to give workers privacy while they’re on the job.

Employers hire workers to perform specific tasks — time that employees spend taking care of private matters may seem wasteful in the eyes of the employer, so employers may monitor employee activities to determine which workers are wasting time or are engaged in activities that may raise legal issues or security concerns.

Different employers have different workplace privacy policies and employee expectations. For instance, a certain employer might not allow workers to use social networking websites at work and may monitor Web activity to ensure that workers adhere to the rules, while another company might encourage social networking.

Monitoring Methods

Employers may monitor employee activities in a variety of ways, many of which are related to the use of computers. According to Bankrate, possible methods of employee monitoring include tracking Internet usage, archiving computer files, storing employee emails and instant messages, logging keystrokes, recording phone conversations, testing for drugs and maintaining video surveillance.

Businesses may also track the use of key cards or use satellite technology that keeps track of the use of company property such as cars and phones.

Content Blocking

Employers that are worried about employees wasting time visiting inappropriate websites or making personal phone calls may attempt to block content. For example, a business might block all social networking sites or websites with adult content from its network, or it may block employees from calling certain phone numbers from their work phones.

Content blocking may reduce unproductive behavior without an employer actually monitoring workers and impinging on their privacy.

Considerations

Employees should be aware of an employer’s policies regarding personal activities at work and the use of technology for activities that aren’t related to work. If you aren’t sure whether a certain activity or website is sanctioned by your employer, avoid it.

courtesy of Altacit Global

 

WORKPLACE PRIVACY

Workers are often accustomed to personal privacy in their private lives, but employers aren’t necessarily obligated to give workers privacy while they’re on the job.

Employers hire workers to perform specific tasks — time that employees spend taking care of private matters may seem wasteful in the eyes of the employer, so employers may monitor employee activities to determine which workers are wasting time or are engaged in activities that may raise legal issues or security concerns.

Different employers have different workplace privacy policies and employee expectations. For instance, a certain employer might not allow workers to use social networking websites at work and may monitor Web activity to ensure that workers adhere to the rules, while another company might encourage social networking.

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