Legal Updates

Employment – Disclosure of Information – Breach of Confidence

The case of Freshtime UK Ltd v Wayne [2006] concerned an allegation of breach of confidence. The claimant’s company provided fresh food products to supermarkets. The defendant was employed by the claimant as a development manager. The defendant’s employment contract stipulated that she was not to divulge any information relating to the capacity of her employment or any details of the claimant’s business to third parties.

The defendant resigned and found employment with one of the claimant’s competitors. Shortly after her resignation, the claimant discovered that the defendant had sent three e-mails to her personal e-mail account prior to leaving the company. The e-mails concerned:

§   Presentations she had made to the claimant’s customers;

§   Feedback which customers had given in relation to the claimant’s services; and

§   Prices of the claimant’s products.

The claimant was of the opinion that the information contained in the e-mails was confidential and therefore violated the terms of the defendant’s contract of employment. The claimant confronted the defendant with its discovery.

The defendant said that she had sent the e-mails to her personal e-mail account in error, and offered to let the claimant view her personal e-mail account to show that she had not breached the terms of her contract. The claimant tried to persuade the defendant to stay in its employment, but was unsuccessful.

The claimant then instructed its solicitors to write to the defendant alleging that the defendant had breached the terms of her employment which amounted to breach of confidence. The claimant also requested the return of all its materials which were in the defendant’s possession. The defendant replied to the letter stating that the e-mails were not sent to anyone else, and that once the error had been discovered, she had not even opened them.

The claimant did not respond to her letter. They instead issued proceedings against her and applied for an interim injunction. They alleged that the sending of the e-mails to her personal account amounted to her ‘using’ confidential information in contravention to her contractual obligations. They also alleged that by her failing to immediately return their materials, she had further breached the terms of her contract.

The claim was dismissed. The court held the where the e-mails had remained unopened the confidential information had not been ‘used’ in a way which amounted to breach of confidence. Although she had not immediately returned the materials, she had previously offered the claimant the permission to view her personal e-mail account and to delete the e-mails relating to the claimant’s confidential information.

In addition to this, the court held that the information which was the subject of the claimant’s complaint was utterly innocuous and that the claimant had reacted totally disproportionately. The matter should not have been taken to court and the defendant’s undertakings had been adequate.

Please contact us for advice on employment law at enquiries@rtcoopers.com or Visit http://www.rtcoopers.com/practice_employment.php

© RT COOPERS, 2006. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.

 

 

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