Christmas Parties and Confidential Information — A Potentially Dangerous Mix

7 December 2020

The silly season is nearly here and more importantly 2020 is almost over! Before we can say goodbye to one of the strangest and most challenging years, we get to enjoy the tradition of the work Christmas party.

This is an opportunity for everyone to let their hair down and enjoy some well-deserved fun, as well as a chance to boost staff morale. However, it’s also important that employees are aware of their obligations and find the right balance between fun and professionalism.

One of these obligations is the duty of confidentiality. Employees should ensure they do not breach their confidentiality obligations by blurting out confidential information to non-staff members, or potentially even competitors (if the Christmas party is at a shared venue).

Every employment agreement implies a duty of confidentiality, which is that employees must keep their employer’s confidential information confidential. Most employees will also have a provision in their employment agreement which deals with confidential information.

Confidential information can include, but is not limited to, information about an employer’s operations, strategies, business plans, client relationships, client lists and details, pricing, budgets and trade secrets (to name a few).

Employers should try, so far as possible, to remind employees of their duties and expectations as to behaviour before the Christmas party. This could include sending a reminder to employees in advance and attaching any relevant policies or codes of conduct that employees need to observe.

What happens at the Christmas party will almost definitely not stay at the Christmas party! Other employees, non-staff members or even competitors may remember what confidential information has been blurted out (even if the employees don’t). Disclosing confidential information to a non-staff member/competitor is likely to be considered misconduct (or even serious misconduct), which could land the employee in hot water (hot water = a disciplinary investigation).

Last but not least, we wish everyone a happy and safe Christmas and New Year. We are happy to provide guidance on any questions employers may have regarding their legal obligations at Christmas parties, or dealing with any incidents which may arise.

Levi Harris is part of our Commercial Disputes & Employment team at Norris Ward McKinnon.

Commercial Disputes & Employment Team