Trade and manufacturing secrets
It is common for employees, especially executives and people in high managerial positions, to have knowledge of the company's trade or manufacturing secrets. Manufacturing secrets include production processes known to a limited number of people, such as chemical formulas, specific inventions or computer programs. Trade secrets, on the other hand, concern the company's commercial strategies, organization or suppliers.
An employee who has knowledge of such secrets is obliged to keep them absolutely confidential. This obligation continues after the end of the employment relationship and during a possible sabbatical leave.
In the era of digital technology, social networks have become more and more popular and are taking up more and more space in society. In the relative privacy of social networks, employees sometimes reveal sensitive information about the company.
For example, an executive may mention on his or her professional profile the company's turnover, the margins on products or the development of a new prototype. In the event of such a disclosure, the employer must react quickly.
The disclosure of company trade secrets or manufacturing secrets can have particularly serious financial consequences for the employer, especially if the information falls into the hands of competitors. The employer is tempted to monitor his or her employees, especially their use of social networks or e-mails.
Such monitoring may infringe on the privacy of employees. The employer must respect strict conditions and procedures. The employer must first draw up a surveillance regulation that complies in every respect with the procedure laid down by the Federal Data Protection Commissioner.
Photos or videos in the workplace
Sometimes an employee takes photos or videos in the company without the employer's knowledge. This is particularly serious in the case of photos of prototypes or production plans. Such behavior may constitute a criminal offense and a violation of the Unfair Competition Act.
After the end of the employment relationship, the employer has an overriding interest in ensuring that the employee does not reveal his or her trade or manufacturing secrets to competing companies. Every employee has the obligation to keep confidential the company's confidential information, even after the end of the employment relationship.
When this confidentiality obligation is not sufficient and certain conditions are met, the employer may consider putting in place a non-competition clause. This may be the case when the employee is a manager and his or her extensive knowledge of the company's confidential data is likely to cause significant economic damage in the event of competing activity.
This non-competition clause is subject to strict conditions of validity. The knowledge of trade and manufacturing secrets is one of them.
Love at work
Two colleagues fall in love and become a couple. They both have access to company trade and manufacturing secrets. One of them has left the company and joined the competition. Can the employer claim an increased risk of the employee breaching his or her duty of confidentiality with respect to trade and manufacturing secrets as a reason for terminating him or her? Or is it a wrongful termination for a reason inherent to the employee's personality, namely his or her romantic relationships?
In order to avoid jealousy and other tensions within the company, the employer sometimes provides that employees are obliged to keep their salary absolutely confidential. Is this legal? Are they trade secrets that employees cannot reveal?