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Beware disclosing confidential information

Employers have been warned that their business could be at risk if they disclose confidential information – even if they think it’s “off the record”.

John Mehtam is the employment law specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, and he said businesses must be aware that the actual phrase ‘off the record’ had no legal status whatsoever.

“Don’t be fooled by the idea that disclosing information which is clearly confidential is nothing to worry about – you’ll be putting your business in jeopardy and it’s not a risk worth taking.”

Mr Mehtam said confidential information often included personal data that related to directors, owners, current and former employees, customers and clients.

“It may also include information about individual and or business tax affairs, legal and other professional advice that’s been received, and current and future business plans.

“But no matter what details you’re asked to pass on, both you and the person asking for the information will be breaching confidentiality rules, even if you both agree you’re speaking off the record.”

Mr Mehtam said it wasn’t just employers who could find themselves in trouble, and all employees should be told that the phrase is meaningless and that they should never reveal anything to a third party.

“If your staff are asked for confidential information, you should insist that they refer the request to a senior manager or director, as you as their employer could be held responsible for their actions if they pass anything on.”

And it’s not just random requests for personal information that can get an employer into trouble.

“If you’re approached for a verbal reference about a former employee, don’t say ‘yes if it’s off the record’ because it won’t be, and the employee is entitled to know what you said about them.

“A recent ruling by the Supreme Court has also confirmed that disclosing confidential information in off the record comments does not get around confidentiality obligations. They said off the record discussions gave the person making the disclosure – and the person asking for the private information – no legal protection at all.

“If someone even mentions off the record discussions, it should immediately set alarm bells ringing, and you should be on your guard from the start. Don’t put yourself and your business at risk.”

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