In Seyfarth’s fourth installment of its 2015 Trade Secrets Webinar series, Seyfarth attorneys addressed the relationship between trade secrets, social media, and privacy.
As a conclusion to this well-received webinar, we compiled a list of key takeaway points, which are listed below.
- Social Media Privacy Laws are on the Rise. At least 20 states now have laws prohibiting employers from requiring or even asking for access to employees’ or job applicants’ personal social media accounts. Penalties for violations range from nominal administrative fines to much larger damages, including punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. Many of the laws, however, have broad exceptions and loopholes, including required employer access of “nonpersonal” accounts and on suspected data theft or workplace misconduct. To learn more, please see our Social Media Privacy Legislation Desktop Reference.
- Safeguard Your Trade Secrets. Protecting your company’s valuable confidential information and trade secrets from disloyal employees is a very different exercise than keeping strangers and competitors locked-out. This exercise is further complicated by inconsistent privacy legislation, which can vary wildly from state-to-state. For example, a disloyal employee secretly copies a confidential employer customer list onto his personal LinkedIn account. The employee works in a state that has adopted the new privacy legislation, which has an exemption for suspected data theft. The employer hears unsubstantiated gossip about that list copying, but does not investigate based on the flimsy evidence and for fear of violating the privacy law. The employee later resigns, and uses that list for a competitor. Did the former employer waive a trade secrets claim against the employee because it decided not to investigate, even though it could have? Did that decision amount to an unreasonably insufficient effort to protect its trade secrets?
- Social Media and BYOD. Social media is an extension of the trend to combine work, and non-work related activities within the same platform. Just like smartphones allow you to engage in both work, and non-work related emailing, the social media platforms continue to drive the conflation of personal and employee activity. As a result, a holistic approach needs to be taken in managing the employee. Otherwise, what was once considered a reasonable policy at work may get applied to private or protected activity and thereby become at a minimum, unreasonable; and in some cases illegal.