Confidentiality at work has become increasingly important and
the employee's responsibility to keep private and confidential
information is just that, private and confidential. Questions from
employers about what must go into this type of policy have become
routine, mainly due to the global nature of communications today
and how easily information can be circulated and accessed. Before
we say what we think is most important in general terms, the
objective of this type of policy should always be to keep
information private and confidential. The exact nature of a policy
will vary based on the needs of your business. For example, a
health care setting may have a much more detailed confidentiality
policy than a toy store, but all organizations need these types of
policies to protect themselves in a competitive business
environment. Having a policy in place is one of the many steps
required to have a dispute-free workplace.
With that in mind, here's what we see as key to your business
information remaining private and confidential.
Tip 1- Clear definitions
Employees must know what information they can access and what
information must remain private and confidential. Pay close
attention to the definition section of your policies to make sure
employees are aware of their limits. It is very important for
employees to know what actions are considered breaches of
confidentiality. Spell out in detail what you mean by
"confidential information" or "private
information". Don't borrow someone else's definition
of "confidential information" or "private
information"; tailor it to the particular needs of your
business. If you're not clear, you're leaving the door open
to an "I didn't know" defence.
Tip 2 – Communication and documentation is key
Once your policy is ready, communicate it to ALL employees,
including supervisors and managers. Provide further training by
holding meetings and training sessions where attendance is noted,
copies of the policy are distributed and those in attendance have
an opportunity to read the policy. Encourage questions and provide
clear answers. If you don't communicate, you're leaving the
door open to a "nobody told me" defence.
Tip 3 – Spell out the consequences
Along with knowing what a breach is, employees MUST know what
the consequences of a breach will entail. If they don't know
they will be disciplined, they can argue down the road that they
were not aware that they would be suspended or terminated for their
actions. Make it clear that any breach will result in discipline.
If you don't set forth the consequences, you're leaving the
door open to an "I didn't know I would be fired"
Tip 4 – Return property on termination
Although it might seem obvious, this is a very important
component of this type of policy. It is essential to specifically
state that employees must return all company property on
termination. Although it might be stated in your policies
elsewhere, if it's not included here what's to stop an
employee who has had a laptop with private and confidential
information on it to just say "I thought it was a
Tip 5 – It doesn't end here – continuing
Even after the employment relationship ends, an employee may
have continuing obligations to a former employer. In other words,
the duty to protect private and confidential information does not
simply end with employment. In the policy, make it clear that it
doesn't end and include language that you will take steps to
protect the information in such circumstances.
What this means for employers
Following these tips will emphasize and stress fundamental
employee obligations and duties. Along with other provisions in
your policy, knowledge and awareness of these rules can limit
careless disclosures and, ultimately, limit liability itself. When
employees know the rules and consequences of a breach, the more
seriously they will take their duties and obligations. If
confidential information does get disclosed, you will have already
taken a big step towards defending the business and providing the
documentation you need to protect your business.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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