Are your policies and procedures protected?

admin, 5/13/2019

Your company's policies and procedures are the heart and soul of your business. Or, at least, they should be. While staff may well come and go, your policies and procedures should encode the very essential principles and guidance that is passed on from one generation of management to the next. Staff come and go, your principles and knowledge shouldn't go with them. They should express the essence of what your business does, how it does it, what it stands for, and what fuels its growth.

A great set of policies and procedures is gold dust in the business world. And they should be guarded as such.

What you really don't want to happen is for someone to take your policies and procedures, leave the company and pass that valuable information on to a competitor. And this can happen easily, especially when staff are eager to share their experience at a new company, to gain respect as a new employee.

So how do you go about protecting your policies and procedures? There are two aspects to this. Firstly, your staff should all have signed a Non-Disclosure agreement as part of their employment contract with you. Secondly, you should establish a policy to protect your policies and procedures - specifically a Confidentiality and Trade Secrets Policy.

Your policies and procedures are copyrighted. They are intellectual property, and that property is owned by your company. This is one thing you must make absolutely clear to your staff, and remind them of this on a regular basis. If you have a set of procedures for handling customer complaints, make sure that your customer support staff are aware that these procedures are both intellectual property of your company, and also a trade secret that must be guarded. They are not to share those procedures with friends. Maybe not even with co-workers from a different department. They certainly must not share them with any actual or even potential competitor companies.

If necessary warn them of the possible consequences. Sharing trade secrets won't just result in a slap on the wrist. The Industrial Espionage Act, otherwise known as the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (18 USCA §§ 1831–1839), is a U.S. federal law that makes theft or misappropriation of a trade secret a federal crime. Simply reminding them of this may be enough to have them pay attention to protecting your trade secrets.

If you want an even greater legal weight behind the protection, consider applying for a patent to cover your most critical business processes. That way you have recourse against your competitors, and not just against the employee who "spilled the beans".

One important measure you can take to help protect your policies is to keep a record of who has viewed each policy, when they viewed it, and even the network IP address of the device it was viewed from. This is something that Staff.Wiki provides, for example, as a protected list that top management can access. This type of information is something that can be audited regularly. If, for example, you notice someone from an unrelated department systematically snooping through policies they shouldn't really be studying, then perhaps you can start an investigation. Maybe it was harmless curiosity, or maybe something more sinister was at play. Either way, it's better to know about it than not.

Writing an effective Confidentiality and Trade Secrets Policy can be the difference between locking your office doors at night, or leaving everything open to thieves. If you want some tips, consider using our own sample   Confidentiality and Trade Secrets Policy as a starting point. You can sign up for Staff.Wiki and download the template by clicking here.

Up Since 5/15/2021 12:47:54 PM