(Editor’s note: Curtis Smolar is a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley. He submitted this column to VentureBeat.)
Facebook and Twitter have created a revolution in communications. You probably knew that.
The problem with people saying whatever occurs to them to large groups of people, though, is your company secrets may not be as secure as you think. It’s definitely worth your time to have everyone under an appropriate confidentiality agreement, but more and more companies are blocking Facebook from their servers – and it’s something you might want to consider as well.
Below are five worst-case Tweets or status updates that, to many people, might sound innocuous, but could mean major headaches for your company.
“My boss and his boss are fighting … again!” – Most people think an employee has a right to free speech when they are not at work. Not necessarily. Tweeting or posting observations from work, even if the situations are well known among employees, could violate confidentiality. This is especially true if the observations involve fundamental issues regarding the stability and well being of the company. Employers can prevent this type of information from being released with the aforementioned confidentiality agreement.
“Boy, do we have something cool coming out soon. I can’t tell you what it is, but…” – Information about upcoming releases is highly confidential. Employees leaking information about upcoming products are grounds for termination or lawsuits. If your company has a really cool new product, be sure to communicate the importance of confidentiality until you are ready to officially launch the product..
“Get a load of this email HR just sent!” – If everyone in the company got the same note , what’s the big deal about posting it on a blog or Facebook page?
Internal communications, although being sent to your entire company, are still confidential to the outside world. Posting the memo could violate the company’s common-law trade secret and/or confidentiality rights. This is compounded if there is a confidentiality agreement, which specifically states that internal communications are protected. If an employee posts this information the employer can file for an injunction to get the information taken down.
“There are a lot of people in [company X] shirts walking around here…” – As discussed above, observations of employees can be considered confidential if they involve trade secrets. Seeing a bunch of employees from a competitor or potential suitor in meetings at your office, lawyers talking to the General Counsel, documents from mergers and acquisition lawyers – all of these observations are highly confidential. Tweeting or posting any content about these activities puts both the employee and the company at risk, especially, if the company has a confidentiality agreement.
“The axe seems to be swinging here. Hope I’m not next.” – Reduction in staff goes to the financial health of the company and is extremely sensitive. This one can be a bit of a line call. For example, looking for a new job is allowed. After all an employee, in the United States, is free to look for new employment. But even then, an employee cannot tell the new employer company secrets.
Startup owners: Got a legal question about your business? Submit it in the comments below or email Curtis directly. It could end up in an upcoming “Ask the Attorney” column.
Disclaimer: This “Ask the Attorney” post discusses general legal issues, but it does not constitute legal advice in any respect. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. VentureBeat, the author and the author’s firm expressly disclaim all liability in respect of any actions taken or not taken based on any contents of this post.
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