Maintaining confidentiality in the workplace is a critical facet of business operations. It is vital to protect trade secrets and customer data for legal and business reasons.
How to maintain confidentiality in the workplace? It boils down to having the right practical and legal processes to ensure that erroneous breaches are minimised, and malicious breaches are discouraged.
When considering how to maintain confidentiality in the workplace, four main areas need to be covered. These are:
Upon commencement of employment
From day one, employees should be educated about the need for confidentiality in the workplace and what can and cannot be discussed outside of the work environment. Some businesses will be governed by specific privacy and confidentiality laws that must be adhered to.
In any case, employees must know what their obligations are from the very beginning.
To further enhance the importance of confidentiality, all employment contracts/agreements should have clauses that clearly state the obligations that an employee has regarding confidentiality. The agreements should also clearly state that the requirements of confidentiality remain in place after employment has ceased.
During the employment tenure
Putting systems and procedures in place to protect confidentiality is a practical step you can take to ensure that your information is not compromised. Practical initiatives you can put in place include:
- Ensuring all computers and email access is password protected.
- That access to confidential information be granted to employees on a need to know basis.
- Preventing files from being removed from the workplace without granting specific permission to do so
- Either forbidding or discouraging employees from using personal devices to access confidential information. Policies should be clear and specific regarding this issue.
- Implementation of an ethical surveillance monitoring program designed to flag any potential breaches of confidentiality policy. The program needs to be legal and visible to ensure that employees know that their workplace emails or downloading behaviour can be monitored.
Some employees will inevitably leave the business at some point. Employment agreements must have clear statements about what the employee is obligated to return to the company upon their resignation or termination. Confidential material that should be listed here includes such items as:
- Items owned by the company, such as laptops or mobile devices that contain confidential information.
- Any confidential material held on personal devices, in which case they should agree to delete the material.
On the last day of employment, the employee’s access to email and other confidential material should be removed, and the employee should be again reminded of their confidentiality obligations. This may also be an excellent time to remind the employee of their responsibilities under the Corporations Act, which clearly state that the employee cannot use confidential information to gain an advantage over their previous employer.
Suppose the employment has ended as a result of a dispute. In that case, it may be wise to initiate an exit deed that restates the employee’s responsibilities regarding confidentiality.
In most instances, once an employee leaves the business, the matter will end there. However, there are occasions where past employees do use your confidential information, and you need to be prepared for these rare but potentially damaging situations.
If it becomes apparent that an employee is using your confidential information, the first step may be to arrange a letter of demand requesting that the employee cease using your information and formally agree to delete or return all confidential information. This agreement may be in the form of a signed undertaking to take corrective action.
If the employee does not respond to your requests, it may be necessary to gain a court order for them to cease using your information until a formal court ruling can be obtained. In such cases, an HR expert can help you to navigate through the legal landscape.
Maintaining confidentiality is a critical part of business strategy. Several legal steps need to be taken to ensure that your policies are watertight and that you are protected from inadvertent or malicious damage.
An essential first step to take is to seek the help of HR consultants who can help you with such tricky matters as inserting appropriate confidentiality clauses into employment contracts and Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), IP Assignment Deeds and Confidentiality Policies.
Workplace confidentiality is a serious matter. Breaches of confidentiality can be embarrassing and costly. Proper consultation with the appropriate experts will help you to draft confidentiality clauses that leave no wriggle room.
If you need help reviewing your workplace confidentiality policies and procedures, get in touch with ChandlerWoods today for an assessment and consultation. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn to get our updates and more valuable business resources.