Employers often seek to protect their information by use of restrictions in employment contracts. Those restrictive covenants, however, are only enforceable to the extent that they are a reasonable restraint that seeks to protect a legitimate business interest. When disputes arise, courts often must decide whether information gained by employees at the employer's expense is so confidential it amounts to a trade secret and cannot be used elsewhere, even if it is 'in the head' of the former employee.
This is an issue central to the recent Goldenfry case. The key argument was whether information obtained by the former employees fell within the 'trade secret' category and could not be used elsewhere, or whether it was merely 'confidential'. If it was not a trade secret, it was not protected post-employment but fell within the enhanced general skill and knowledge of the employees.
The relevance of this case to food industry employers is to ensure that information they would prefer not to be divulged to third parties should be properly policed. This includes reviewing restrictions in employment contracts, limiting access to sensitive information and implementing a secure documentation policy.
Matthew Howarth, head of commercial litigation, Gordons