Is it illegal to keep a secret?

Trade secret: You must not reveal that

Employees come into contact with a variety of information on the job. Production facilities, internal agreements, calculation bases, price strategies, visions and plans ... This is essential for day-to-day work, but such knowledge should be protected from outsiders in the interests of the company. For good reason a Trade secret therefore not to be divulged and betrayed. But what exactly counts as trade secrets or, as an employee, should it be best not to report anything about your job so as not to run the risk of revealing confidential information? Fortunately, it is not that bad and only certain information falls under the protection of a trade secret. We answer the most important questions and show you what to look out for in order not to reveal any trade secrets ...

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What exactly is a trade secret?

Discussions and disputes about trade secrets have existed for as long as there have been companies that are reluctant to share information with the public and certainly not with competitors. So in 2006 defined that Federal Constitutional Courtwhat exactly is meant by a trade secret. Then it says:

Business and trade secrets are all facts, circumstances and processes relating to a company that are not obvious, but only accessible to a limited group of people and in whose non-disclosure the legal entity has a legitimate interest.

This covers a correspondingly broad area. In the first place apply technical knowledge, Know-how, internal procedures and processes or recipes. For example, the secret recipe of the soft drink Coca Cola is probably the most protected trade secret in the world. But also economic and commercial information such as customer lists, sales figures, agreements with suppliers and corporate strategies are counted among the trade secrets - even if these are legally designated and differentiated as trade secrets.

The definition of trade secrets also shows that not all information about a company is to be regarded as such. On the one hand, it has to be knowledge or facts that are only accessible to a certain group of people. Publicly available datathat can be seen by outsiders without any problems are thus eliminated. On top of that a legitimate interest must insist on keeping the secret.

An employer can do that do not requirethat, in principle, all information and facts are treated as trade secrets. Completely forbidding to talk about your job and also to pass on one or the other related information - as long as it is not a trade secret - companies cannot do this.

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Company secret: does the employment contract have to regulate confidentiality?

Many companies secure it Preservation of trade secrets by their employees through corresponding regulations in the employment contract. By signing it, it is confirmed that confidential information about the company will be handled with care and confidentiality and that it will not be passed on to third parties.

If such an agreement is missing in the employment contract, employees could get the idea that everything can be talked about and that no punishment is threatened if company secrets are disclosed - after all, nothing has been signed that explicitly mentions and regulates their own confidentiality. However, this is a mistake that can sometimes have unpleasant consequences if trade secrets are handled loosely.

An employee's duty to protect internal information does not need any special clauses, it is a so-called one Secondary obligation arising from the employment contract. Behind this are the law against unfair competition and the employee's duties of loyalty.

In addition, employees should remember that it does not matter how a trade secret gets out. It does not have to be shared openly or communicated in writing to a third party. A USB stick left lying around can be enough to put sensitive information into the wrong hands.

Company secrets remain secret even after termination

Out of the employment contract - out of the secrecy of trade secrets? After a termination, regardless of which side it was issued, not always only good memories and a positive impression remain. If a collaboration diverges in disputes and frustration, the temptation is great to take action against the former employer and to reveal one or the other trade secret.

However, you should be very careful when doing this, because you are even after a termination still committedto keep the trade secrets to yourself. This also applies if this is not specifically stated in your employment contract or if a period of time has been agreed in which to maintain silence.

who after termination of employment Revealing trade secrets can make yourself liable to prosecution and be prosecuted by the ex-company, just like a current employee.

What threatens if a trade secret is revealed?

To reveal a trade secret even if it was not on purpose is no trivial offense. You are violating your duties as an employee and you have to expect that your boss will react accordingly. How exactly the consequences and possible criminal consequences look like depends on the specific situation.

In any case you are threatened with dismissal. If it is a particularly serious case of disclosure of trade secrets, this can be a termination without notice, otherwise an employer can issue an ordinary, behavior-related termination.

You're rid of your job, but things can get worse. You can also liable for damages if the company has suffered financial damage as a result of your disclosure of trade secrets. If you have acted out of self-interest or malicious intent - in order to deliberately and deliberately harm the employer - there is even a risk in the worst case Prison sentence.

This emerges from Section 17 of the Act against Unfair Competition (UWG), which states:

Anyone who, as a person employed by a company, shares a business or trade secret that has been entrusted to him or her within the framework of the employment relationship or has become accessible to someone without authorization during the term of the employment relationship for purposes of competition, for self-interest, for the benefit of a third party or with intent to harm the owner of the company is punishable by imprisonment of up to three years or a fine.

As an employee, you should therefore carefully consider what information from your job you will discuss with others. This also applies at home with your partner or among friends. On the other hand, companies that attach great importance to trade secrets should point them out to employees and specifically mark documents, processes or information that are to be protected as trade secrets.

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