Preventing and disciplining employees who reveal confidential information

Peninsula Team

November 28 2014

The majority of employees will have access to confidential information on a day to day basis. In a recent survey, 87% of employees say they would consider dismissing someone for posting confidential information on social media. Dismissal should be seen as a last resort depending on the seriousness of the incident. Employers should develop suitable terms and conditions of employment to stop this happening and also lay down policies on how they would deal with this information being revealed, on the occasions it may happen.

To prevent confidential information being shared employers should introduce full and comprehensive rules on breaching confidential information or company data. This can be contained in Employee Handbooks and include a fully policy on data protection and the consequences of breaching this. Employers should make sure that employees fully understand these policies, the seriousness of this matter and offer training on this important area.

If it is discovered that an employee has published any confidential information a full investigation in to the circumstances should be carried out. This will allow employers to work out if the employee needs to be disciplined. If the incident was a genuine mistake which led to confidential information being told to the wrong person this may not require formal action and only be serious enough to need a letter addressing the error and setting out future steps to prevent this occurring. If this was not a genuine mistake then employers should address this using their normal disciplinary procedure. The facts of the disclosure will depend on whether the incident will be classed as misconduct, serious misconduct or gross misconduct but, dependent on this, any disciplinary action taken should be reasonable in comparison to the incident.

Another way to prevent employees revealing information after they have left employment is to introduce restrictive covenants in to contracts. This means that the business will still be protected as employers can then carry out legal action to stop employees from revealing any confidential information. Employers need to make sure that these covenants are reasonable, they protect real business interests and are adapted to the particular business and particular job roles – for example, covenants which apply to a senior manager will not apply to a lower administrative staff, but, the admin staff may still have access to client information which they could pass on to competitors. If the covenant is unreasonable it is likely to be ineffective and unenforceable, especially if an ex-employee challenges this.

If you need any clarification on this issue then contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.  

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