We’ve all had those moments when we started a new job. There were handshakes all around, and you were given a schedule, but before your first day you had to make sure all the I’s had been dotted, and all the T’s had been crossed. You probably had to go through a big stack of paperwork, signing a bunch of forms before you were even shown to your desk. You had to agree to the terms of your job, the salary you were being paid, the benefits you received, you had to agree to take a drug test, and the list goes on and on.
If there was a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in that stack of paperwork, then you also agreed to keep the details of what happens while you’re at work to yourself. That means no sharing the details among friends in the industry, no chatting about it on your blog, etc., etc.
So what happens if you violate that non-disclosure agreement? You’re probably going to be terminated, that just goes without saying, but are there other things that can happen? Can your employer sue you, for example?
Yes… But There Are Conditions
The whole purpose of a non-disclosure agreement is to make sure that a business has legal right-of-way if someone starts spreading company secrets. These agreements are meant to stop you from:
– Selling secrets to competing businesses.
– Releasing potentially damaging information about the company.
– Acting as a source for journalists without company permission.
As well as a dozen other things. In short, an NDA is a legal land mine that can be quite potent if you actually trigger it. Most NDAs will have the specific penalties for violation laid out in their terms, which lets you know up-front what will happen should you break it. And, just as with any other breach of contract, it is possible that your employer will sue you in order to recoup the damages that your breach caused. In addition to a lawsuit you might have to deal with termination, or with a loss of a settlement if this NDA was part of a previous suit that was settled out of court. It is possible that this violation can do serious damage, and in some cases it can be financially ruinous.
However, as Xconomy points out, an NDA can be difficult to enforce without direct proof that it was violated. Which is especially true if your employer is planning on bringing a suit against you with that violation as the centerpiece of their case.
In order for your employer to bring suit against you, they need to have proof that you violated your NDA. A suspicion isn’t enough to fly in a court of law. That might mean that they’ll acquire copies of emails you sent, testimony from bloggers you talked to, or even transcripts of phone calls… but those things are a lot more difficult to acquire than most folks think they are. And without proof of a violation, an NDA is pretty toothless as far as legal agreements go. If your employer does have proof that you violated your agreement, though, then not only are you likely to lose your position with the company, but they can definitely sue you for damages as a result of your behavior.
Non-disclosure agreements are becoming more and more common in today’s legal landscape as Market Watch points out, and they’re often a requirement of employment. So before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you know your rights, and understand what it is you’re agreeing to. Because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to agreements like this.
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