Confidentiality agreements, or CAs, have long been a useful tool for employers and staffing professionals, but have recently taken on a newfound applicability due to increased numbers of people working remotely as a result of Covid-19. Confidential information is no longer confined within the four walls of an employer’s building. Given this new reality, staffing industry professionals in all sectors would benefit from a high-level overview of what confidentiality agreements are, why they are used, and how they might come into play in a staffing context.
The Agreements. Confidentiality agreements are written contracts that allow an individual or organization to disclose information considered proprietary while at the same time protecting the information’s secrecy. CAs prohibit the person who receives confidential information from misappropriating, sharing or stealing it.
CAs allow companies to share with workers information that they have spent time and resources developing, such as lists of sales leads or product pricing sheets, while protecting the information from becoming widely known. CAs also mitigate the concern that the recipient of the information will use it at a competing company or otherwise damage the providing company’s goodwill. They make it clear that confidential information is a company asset that is only to be used for its intended purpose.
Eliminating Risk. CAs may be especially valuable to employers now that many workers are not working in an office environment and haven’t been for some time, and so may have grown casual with respect to guidance about the limited permissible uses of company information.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to eliminating all risk of misappropriation of company information, there are a few consistent criteria that staffing industry professionals should consider when taking steps to help protect employers’ confidential information:
Protecting Employers’ Information:
- Systematically ask each applicant if he or she is subject to a CA and inform potential new employers of any known restrictions that candidates have with respect to confidential information from their current and former employers.
- Make it clear to both the candidate and the potential new employer that confidential information from a prior employer cannot be used in the candidate’s new role. “Don’t take your employer’s confidential information, and don’t use or bring a competitor’s confidential information to them” should be communicated as a firm expectation. Articulate it clearly and consistently.
- Consider developing or updating your agency’s policies regarding the treatment of information so that the individuals you work with have a baseline of how your organization expects information to be treated. Set a standard that, when in doubt, workers should presume information is confidential.
- Communicate with applicants about the duty to protect their employer’s information and the additional obligations that may come with the requirement to sign a CA.
- At the end of an engagement, ask the departing worker about what information they possess, require them to return company information, and reiterate during off-boarding the rules regarding the (mis)use of employer information. Not everyone understands that information is an asset to a company just like cash or property; therefore, many people don’t treat it similarly. It is best to be very clear on this point throughout the entire cycle of engagement.
Ultimately, staffing professionals and firms should ensure that they are consistently reminding those with whom they work to treat company information very carefully and, when appropriate, ensure that they have a base-level understanding of what confidentiality agreements are and what obligations they may carry. This has always been the best practice, but it is especially important to stay on top of this now as workers spend more and more time working away from the direct view of employers.