How do I protect confidential information in the workplace?

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Published on LexisPSL on 04/12/2013

The following Information Law Q&A provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • How do I protect confidential information in the workplace?
  • What counts as confidential information?
  • Use contractual protection
  • Use a need to know approach
  • Think about practical meausres
  • Train employees
  • Carry out audits
  • Bespoke procedures and policies
  • What happens when an employee leaves?

What counts as confidential information?

The legal definition of confidential information is information that is (i) confidential in nature, and (ii) disclosed in circumstances that give rise to a duty of confidentiality. What does this mean in practice? In many cases it will be obvious that information is confidential eg a customer database, a trade secret such as a new chemical formula or a business sales strategy. Sometimes it won't be obvious, eg oral communications at a work social event or informal email communications can constitute confidential information. Therefore it is vital to have (i) a system in place to protect confidential information, and (ii) ensure employees are aware of the risks and discouraged from using information unlawfully.

Use contractual protection

Many employment contracts will include provisions on confidential information. However, one size might not fit all and it is a good idea to seek legal advice to ensure that your employment contracts are suitable for your business and the different categories of employee. For example, different contractual measures may be required for home or mobile workers versus officer workers. It is important to review confidentiality provisions regularly as employee take on different roles, new technologies emerge and legislative framework changes. See Practice Note: Confidential information and trade secrets in employment.

Use a need to know approach

Confidential information needs to be recorded and shared cautiously; a

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