JONES DAY PRESENTS®: Enhancing Trade Secret Protection in Remote Work Environments
The recent shift to remote work has meant an increased vulnerability in trade secret protection. Jones Day Labor & Employment Partner Steve Zadravecz explains how updating policies, procedures, and software can make a difference in protecting trade secrets.
A full transcript appears below.
Most companies already have the mechanisms necessary to protect their trade secrets. There's really three areas where companies can focus on in terms of enhancing their protection of information, whether it's a permanent work from home assignment or like a hybrid. So the first area that companies need to focus on, do we need to evaluate our existing policies to revise those policies or to adapt those policies to the work from home environment? For example, do we need to have a new policy about whether an employee can use a personal device for company work? Do we have an existing policy, like a clean desk policy, like we have a clean desk policy at work, do we have to amend that policy to have a paragraph in there that says, Hey, by the way, this policy continues to apply in a work from home environment? Or do we need a different, like a agreement, maybe having the employees sign a document that says, by the way, I'm working from home, but all the companies policies and procedures, especially on confidential information, hey, that continues to apply.
The second area is companies need to deploy their existing policies and procedures to the work environment. So think of the typical scenario that used to be. An employee joins the company. Commonplace for a company representative, someone in HR, to sit down with the employee to make sure that employee signs a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement and explains this is how it works. You can't disclose this information. Well, we now have employees who never come to the office. So setting up a procedure to meet with that employee by video or by telephone and making sure they sign the documents and understand the policies is really important. Same on the way out. You'd be surprised that, again, commonplace when an employee exits, they have an exit interview or discussion with their supervisor, and then what happens? The company collects and retrieves their electronic devices and watches the employee as they leave to make sure they're only taking their, what is their personal property, not company property.
Well, they have to have a procedure for that when someone's working from home. They have to remember, let's go out and get that device. Let's make sure that we're having a conversation with the employee to retrieve our confidential information.
And then the last section is companies need to look to software and technology to help them protect those trade secrets. There's lots of software and applications out there that permit companies to have very significant control over their data. They're called sandboxing applications. So an employee, even using their own personal device can access the company network, but the company can still control, hey, does that data leave our environment? Maybe they can limit or restrict access to saving that on a personal device. So sandboxing technologies, data loss protection technologies to monitor when data is leaving the environment or the network. Those are software and technology advances that are out there. They're able to be purchased by companies. They're able to be integrated with the systems and they provide significant protection, including in the work at home environment.
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