Whistleblowing Versus Exposing Company Secrets: How Civil Litigation Differentiates Between The Two
If you expose something secretive about the company you work for and suddenly find yourself in the midst of a lawsuit, you may be wondering how your commercial litigation lawyer can help you out of this sticky situation. From your point of view, you may have been "whistleblowing," but from your employer's perspective you were revealing company secrets you agreed to keep secret. There is a legal differentiation between the two, and here is how your lawyer will not only explain it but use the definitions to defend your position.
While whistleblowing is definitely revealing company secrets, it is actually defined as "the legally, morally and ethically correct behavior of one individual when that individual discovers that the company he or she works for is doing something illegal or unethical that can affect a lot of people." The term tends to carry a negative connotation, because the fallout of whistleblowing is negative publicity and scandal. However, if the secrets you revealed about your employer result in a full-blown investigation that proves the company was corrupt or doing bad things, then they cannot sue you, and your lawyer can protect you from the lawsuit.
Exposing Company Secrets
Most employees these days are required to sign an affidavit that states they will not reveal company or trade secrets, or information regarding the customers the company serves. If you reveal anything you know about the company that could hurt their business, and it does not fall under the category of whistleblowing because the secrets do not involve any illegal activities, corrupt behaviors or unethical practices, then the company can sue you. Although you may not have intended to reveal the company/trade secrets, it is still illegal and your commercial litigation lawyer may have a difficult time extricating you from this type of lawsuit.
However, since most commercial litigation suits are handled outside a courtroom to avoid bad publicity, your lawyer may be able to argue for a less painful punishment. The circumstances surrounding your indiscretion play a big part too, since drunkenness or drug use or extortion can all be reasons for revealing company information that was supposed to be kept quiet. At best, you may only lose your job with the company for which you worked. At worst, you may face a light jail sentence, depending on how much money you cost your employer by revealing the company's secrets. Both you and the company would have to prove that the situation happened, too, which is really hard to do.
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