South Africa’s labour law is generally considered to be substantial and in-depth, covering a broad spectrum of rules and regulations. Legislation is now even more significant because of the importance placed on data use and protection, and the significance of the Protection of Personal Information (PoPIA) Act. So what happens in the event of a labour dispute and the use or misuse of confidentiality agreements?
Leading human capital management services and solutions specialist CRS Technologies says digitalisation has had a profound impact on businesses, with data acknowledged and intellectual property considered to be the among the most prized assets.
Today, information needs to be accessed, stored, exchanged and utilised in an instant if industries want to remain relevant and competitive. This is why employers rely heavily on tools like confidentiality agreements to protect information in the first instance, but also ensure that information is used appropriately, legally and in the interests of the company.
Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, explains that put simply, a confidentiality agreement means employees cannot disclose proprietary data about the company to anyone else without prior consent.
But why is this important for employees and employers to know?
“There are significant repercussions for all parties if a confidentiality agreement is breached. Aside from the basic breakdown of a relationship that is supposed to be based on trust, if guilty, the employee could not only lose his or her job, he or she may also be liable for prosecution in terms of a civil claim levelled against them,” says Myburgh. “The law recognises the rights of all parties involved, but leans a bit more towards the side of the employer in terms of their right to have information protected, and is legally binding in terms of the employees’ responsibilities.”
CRS Technologies highlights the fact that a foundation feature of any labour contract entered into between an employer and employee is the common law obligation to protect the interests of employers, most significantly their data and information about operations.
“And it’s also accepted that the more competitive the industry, the more relevant and serious issues like confidentiality and legally binding agreements become,” adds Myburgh.
“We live in the age of data, of cyber security and corporate espionage. Trade secrets, sensitive information and personal data are considered treasured commodities, and protection is of paramount importance. Employees are the frontline of any operation today and entrusted confidentiality is not a luxury or ‘nice-to-have’, it’s a top priority for companies and one that will continue to be fiercely guarded in the digital economy. Human resources and labour legislation reflect the trend.”