Do your independent contractors have access to confidential information? Does your independent contractor agreement provide you with sufficient protection?
Tip #1: Be sure your independent contractor agreement includes a Confidential Information section. It should prohibit the contractor from using or disclosing confidential information at any time, including after the retention is completed.
Be sure, however, to consider these carve-outs to allow disclosure under these limited circumstances:
- When a subpoena or court order requires, but consider requiring the contractor to provide advance notice so you have the opportunity to contest the potential disclosure.
- To a government agency, as part of a complaint or investigation. The SEC and DOL/OSHA have taken the position that it is a violation of federal whistleblower laws to have a Confidential Information clause that is so broad that it prohibits revealing confidential information to a government agency when whistleblowing. Under this whistleblowing scenario, you cannot require the individual to alert you to the disclosure first.
- Under circumstances described in the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), which took effect in 2016. Under DTSA, a company can recover additional damages and attorney fees if an individual improperly discloses the company’s trade secrets if the company provides advance notice to individuals of their DTSA rights.
Here is a sample DTSA disclosure:
You shall not be held criminally or civilly liable under any Federal or State trade secret law for the disclosure of a trade secret that is made (x) in confidence to a Federal, State, or local government official, either directly or indirectly, or to an attorney; and (y) solely for the purpose of reporting or investigating a suspected violation of law. You shall not be held criminally or civilly liable under any Federal or State trade secret law for the disclosure of a trade secret that is made in a complaint or other document filed in a lawsuit or other proceeding, if such filing is made under seal. Furthermore, in the event you file a lawsuit for retaliation by the Company for reporting a suspected violation of law, you may disclose the trade secret to your attorney and use the trade secret information in the court proceeding, if you file any document containing the trade secret under seal and do not disclose the trade secret, except pursuant to court order.
Tip #2: One other point to remember — and this is a common mistake: Make sure that when the agreement expires, the obligation not to disclose confidential information remains in effect. I have seen too many termination clauses where the agreement terminates, not just the relationship. If the entire agreement terminates, you may accidentally be terminating the contractor’s obligation to preserve confidential information after the engagement ends.
When you end an engagement, you probably want to terminate the engagement, not the entire agreement.
Have fun out there!