Why employers need to take IP issues seriously

by evolvedlegal on July 29, 2012

Employing staff and employment law generally can be extremely difficult for employers to get their heads around, with the morass of employment legislation out there. It is understandable that many small employers tend to focus on the issues of possible unfair dismissal claims or discrimination, which are big risks to their business, both in legal and morale terms. But employers should also not over look the importance of IP as it impacts on employment issues.

Some of the more important issues for business to be aware of are :-

1. Data protection and the requirements of the Data Protection Act – many employers see the Act as an unnecessary burden and don’t believe that breaches are enforced. It is true that the Information commissioners Office (ICO) struggles to enforce the law, but when and where it does, it has significant powers to fine or worse, so it needs to be taken seriously. It is also a reputation issue, if word gets out that customer data has been lost or stolen, this is bad news for business in today’s ever more viral world.

2. Protecting data and IP internally – a huge part of the value of most businesses now is their data, the information they have about customers, suppliers, business know how or other proprietary forms of information, This information is valuable, and it is important to ensure the data is not susceptible to being stolen by a disgruntled or opportunist employee who is perhaps being poached by a competitor.

3. Social media and online communication – few if any businesses can avoid the issue of legal risks and liability from online communication, whether by email, social media channels or otherwise – how do you know as employer what your staff are saying or doing in your name. Perhaps they are ignorant of the law and don’t realise that a chain of email communications might constitute a contractually binding commitment for your business or an off the cuff comment on twitter might be incredibly damaging. then there is the issue of controlling the amount of time your staff may be spending online on their own personal chit chat or conversations. These are huge issues for business in the 21st century.

There is no easy or 100% guaranteed solution to the above issues. Employers are however well advised to consider the above and other risks on an ongoing basis, as technology continues to move on a apace. Practical IP protection steps should be considered such as different access levels and approvals, templates for emails perhaps, and the right legal documents and procedures in employment law terms can at least mitigate risk and demonstrate, if the proverbial hits the fan, to any court or emp0loyment tribunal that your business is and was cognisant of the risks and took appropriate steps to have the right policies and procedures ion place.

This post supplied by EFRB, specialists in employment law advice.

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