So. The Amber Harrison / Tim Worner affair. As media crises go, this one’s a doozy.
Ms Harrison went to the press last December about her affair with Seven’s CEO and her alleged mistreatment by the network in the aftermath. An internal investigation ensued, along with a media poop storm. Mr Worner was cleared of serious misconduct in early February on the basis that the affair was private. Ms Harrison disagreed with the decision and took to Twitter to share her views, along with some personal notes she received from Worner on company letterhead.
On Monday Seven obtained an urgent injunction stopping Ms Harrison from releasing confidential company information. The final hearing is set for next week. Twitter has now withheld a number of her Tweets in Australia, including those with images of the Worner letters.
Employees and exemployees have a legal obligation not to disclose confidential company information obtained during their employment. Most employment contracts cover this. Even if they don’t, an equitable obligation can also arise. There’s no whistleblower protection for people like Ms Harrison in the private sector, except for some limited rules relating to breaches of the Corps Act or the ASIC Act.
When an exemployee wants to dish out company dirt, your primary options are to negotiate or seek an injunction. In either scenario you’ll have to move fast because once the information’s out, the damage is impossible to undo.
In urgent cases, you can apply for an injunction against the exemployee without giving them notice or a chance to defend themselves. The court can give you a shortterm injunction lasting just long enough to get everyone into a court room to have a proper argument. Normally this takes a few days. You’ll need to identify the material you say is confidential, explain why it’s confidential, and why you think there is a risk of disclosure. Whether you get the shortterm gag will depend on a balancing of the interest in protecting information versus the inconvenience caused by the injunction.
Angry exemployees threaten to spill beans to the press pretty regularly. The Harrison example just illustrates how hard it is to respond effectively. Seven had a good win in court. It got really broad injunctions against Harrison. Hanging on to them will be harder, and the media frenzy the court case is attracting will also make it difficult to keep this story contained. Settling the dispute is looking more and more the better option.