Generation Gap in Attitudes toward Confidential Company Files Leaves Young Workers Vulnerable

A 2012 survey conducted by a software company, FileTrek (below), reveals generational gap in employee attitudes toward confidential company documents. A majority (68%) of the Millennial generation (people aged 18-34) believe it is OK to remove confidential files from work, whereas only 50% of people aged 55 plus do. The preferred method? USB stick.

The survey highlights what many will recognize to be a common attitude in the Silicon Valley, namely that “[t]oday’s workforce believes information is an asset to be shared.” (Dale Quayle, CEO of FileTrek) This attitude contributes to the success of Silicon Valley companies. However, in the proprietary information sector, the associated risks may be high for both businesses and employees alike.

For companies, a secure infrastructure and a set of internal policies are extremely important to protect confidential data and to keep income-producing and potentially valuable confidential information under company control. The alternative may mean losing a competitive edge, or losing, period.

For employees, philosophical misunderstandings or “no harm no foul” rationalizations when removing confidential work files may result in termination and exposure to civil liability. At the end of the day, the most secure networks may be compromised if employees do not understand or appreciate the importance of confidential information security and individual consequences. Universities do not prepare young professionals to navigate the pitfalls of a modern workplace when it comes to non-public company information. California occupies a special place in this arena due to the tension between California’s prohibition against restraint on trade (Bus. & Prof. Code §16600, generally known as prohibition against “non-competes”), trade secret law (California Uniform Trade Secret Act, Civ. Code §§3426-3426.11), general contract law and California Labor Code affording employees certain rights, for example §2870 (employee inventions on their own time). Whether they are signing employment agreements for a new job, thinking of transitioning to a competitor or firing up a start-up, stir young people to get advice, understand their responsibilities and rights, and how they fit in the young workers’ worldview.


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