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<i>Dear Workforce</i> Confront an Employee Who Shares Confidential Information

July 23, 2004
Dear Tiptoeing:

First, remember that the information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
OK, with that out of the way: Many companies, as a part of their employee policies and procedures, address the issue of sharing confidential company information with unauthorized parties. In fact, confidentiality is so sensitive that in many policies, a confidentiality breach results in immediate termination. If you have a policy, then it would be just a matter of following it, assuming you have credible proof that a violation has occurred.
In the absence of such a policy, you may revert to your regular discipline policy (again, presuming you have one). Many companies have progressive policies that start with a verbal warning, escalate to written warnings and, finally, mandate either suspension or termination for continued violations. However, in the area of confidentiality, you may not want to give the employee another chance to violate, which is why many discipline policies have immediate-termination clauses for acts of "gross misconduct." You would have to determine, with appropriate counsel, the severity of the act and whether it constitutes gross misconduct.
In either case, be sure you have solid proof of a violation, rather than the hearsay of other employees. Then confront the employee as soon as possible. Document your conversations and set clear, written boundaries for future action, so that there is no ambiguity as to your expectations about conduct or the consequences of violations.
Meet with the employee and point out the issue and its severity, noting that continued violations will result in progressive discipline.
In some cases, he may be a valued employee who nonetheless has this one fault. Or perhaps he holds a key position in the organization. You could try restricting the employee's access to confidential information. If that isn't possible, try to find another position within the company that doesn't involve access to sensitive information. If neither of those is workable, you may have to suffer the short-term loss of letting the person go, knowing that the company will be much more stable in the long run.
SOURCE: Bill Dickmeyer, CEBS, Madison Human Resources Consulting, LLC, Madison, Wisconsin, Sept. 3, 2003.
LEARN MORE: Please readWhat to Do When a Disciplined Employee Tells Her Story.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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