Breach of Confidentiality

In a recent case (UD 346/2013) where a Purchasing Assistant with over 12 years service was awarded €19,000 for unfair dismissal because she had sent confidential emails to her husband, even though the information was not used by her husband or of use to him, a number of process issues were highlighted that are useful to review.

It would normally be considered in most roles that a breach of confidentiality requirements would warrant a serious disciplinary sanction, up to and including summary dismissal.  In this case the claimant was awarded €19k for unfair dismissal, even though she admitted sending two emails to her husband that contained sensitive supplier and stock information that would be beneficial to competitors. The EAT decided that the process and decision making at a number of stages was flawed in a number of respects:     

  • Whilst the claimant was correctly suspended with pay, she was not informed of the reasons for her suspension at the time of suspension and was only made aware of the specific allegations two days later;
  • The claimant was not issued with any information about the investigation procedure that was to be used and only received a copy of the investigation report at the appeal stage of the process;
  • The claimant was not issued with a copy of the disciplinary procedure;
  • The information forwarded by the claimant to her husband was done for other purposes and was not to pass on confidential information that was intended to be used by him;
  • The information was not misused in any manner and there was no loss to the Company as a result of the information being passed on;
  • The Sales Director involved in the disciplinary process admitted that he had spoken to his sister and brother in law about the matter and the EAT considered this to be a similar breach of confidentiality; and 
  • The claimant was a long serving employee with a good record.

As always – Process Process Process and review carefully all circumstances of a case prior to making a decision to dismiss.