Disclose it! The dos and don’ts of an NDA

So here you are: new job, new office, new colleagues. Everything is great! You are so happy, in fact, you wish to share the news with the whole wide world, preferably in a snappy, interactive form online. Ooops! A mere day later and you find yourself back on the job market. Why? The HR keeps insisting that you divulged major company secrets in telling your auntie and select few followers about your new gig. You think it’s stupid and an obvious overreaction. So who’s right?

The NDA or „non-disclosure agreement” is a bog-standard, boilerplate document of the 21st century, it turns out. Many companies nowadays are sensitive to what their employees are telling about them in public. And since telling something in public has never been easier, the Internet-related clauses in such an agreement are often a mile-long litany of various ways you could betray the trust offered you by the corporation. However, far from stipulating the obvious restrictions, such as telling about your company’s trade secrets, revealing or sharing the best practices or know-how, most NDAs also come with several points that may seem a little too stifling.

Many, in fact, are and would not hold water in court as they restrict your freedom of speech to a certain degree. The famous Law of confidence – and its variants all over the globe – is notoriously hard to use to protect your secrets from someone you do business with. The intellectual property laws, on the other hand, specify exactly what should and should not be disclosed, and many NDAs serve as a twofold document: to prevent you, the employee, from spreading company secrets accidentally by laying out a firm set of rules, and to make sure the company’s specific intellectual property remains intact.

Given the second purpose of the document, once you put your John Hancock to paper, it’s going to be a little hard to explain any lapse in confidentiality. Always ask and negotiate before you sign, especially if this isn’t an entry-level position. The company may present its policy as immutable and its NDA as standard, but there’s often some wiggle room to get the finer details amended before signing. In addition, you’ll have to examine and review any one-sided clauses to ensure that your own privacy, data and rights are being protected as well. Do so if you’re an artist, designer, inventorin short, someone whose intellectual property becomes company property through your actual work contract. Unilateral (one-way) agreements are most common in typical corporate work where you become privy to trade or stock secrets but do not generate such information or objects through your work. In such case, experts agree that it is quite normal if the clauses protect only the company.

Here’s a short list of confidential items that you should agree not to disclose:

  • The exact specifics of what you do at the company, including your projects names and descriptions, product data, deliverables content etc.
  • Project and delivery timetables, plans or strategies.
  • The technological solutions a company uses, such as middleware, in-house programmes, server software, internal services etc. This includes both talking about them and copying or using them privately.
  • The financial information that pertains to shares, stock, possible future IPOs or trade opportunities, buyouts, investments, payments to vendors or partners etc. There are usually non-use clauses attached to such items as well as non-disclosure.
  • Names and positions of your co-workers, their tasks and projects,
  • Non-use clauses which explain which sensitive information should simply not be used to gain an unfair advantage, including original patents, unique ideas or inventions.
  • Third-party confidential information, data of other employees, businesses you work with, customers and contractors. This is a no-brainer, but NDA is there to also make you sensitive to such issues and prevent „loose lips” situations.

Here’s a short list of items that should perhaps be reviewed or amended:

  • The job description and company you work for. There’s very few cases where you are not allowed to even talk about where you work. Usually it’s not enforceable even if you reveal that particular bit of information by accident or on purpose. This also makes it very hard to continue your career once leaving the company, resulting in a measurable loss to your career prospects – an instance which leaves the company open to a lawsuit and which is best avoided in an NDA.
  • The money you earn. Companies will tell you it’s confidential, but it’s only up to your own discretion to what degree. Using a web service that compares salaries anonymously, for example, will not be a breach of confidentiality if you give a reasonably vague number close to what you earn.
  • Any information restriction that will potentially hinder your ability to do business or actually perform your tasks. For example, an NDA that prohibits from telling about your company’s products may also disallow you to promote or offer such a product to your clients. This defeats the purpose of certain positions such as sales representatives.
  • Any information that is widely known, that you already have from other sources, non-unique ideas and general know-how in your field — these are all best left unrestricted.
  • Better care given to protecting company practices or secrets, greater than the amount of care given to this by the company. In layman’s terms, the NDA should allow you to only use the company-provided security measures, not demand you do more on your own. If they do not encrypt their data, you should not be required to use your own encryption to protect it for them.

A good NDA should also give you specific instructions:

  • The specific persons or parts of the company hierarchy you are allowed to talk to about all the sensitive issues set out in the document,
  • The means of legal, extralegal or disciplinary action that will be taken in case of a breach, including which jurisdiction applies, outline of an amicable or arbitrage solution, monetary fees or damages, especially pertaining to each element specified as confidential, secret or privileged by the NDA.
  • A precisely stated duration of obligations. Most companies insist on an indefinite NDA protection, but in many cases it’s an overkill that may, once again, hinder your future career opportunities. If a company is about to put a new product on the market, its protection via NDA is a sensible step. Once the product is publicly available, however, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to take credit for helping to create it on your CV or LinkedIn profile.
  • How to change, add or review your personal data under any Personal Data Protection Act valid in your country. Disclosing such data may never be restricted for the employee, but nearly always must be restricted for the company.

As always, most NDAs are there just as a precaution; this is not just a gag clause for its own sake but a means to specify and educate as much as threaten and lay blame. Some NDAs may present an obvious trap or a way to increase the employee’s responsibilities unreasonably. Other clauses may hamper their career prospects further along the line due to an NDA’s overly restrictive nature. In many cases, this may be an error of oversight by the company’s legal department. Pointing this out and trying to negotiate a better NDA is always a good idea. If in doubt, however, just try to talk things through before flat out refusing to sign.


preferably – najlepiej
snappy – zgrabny, chwytliwy
mere – ledwie, tylko
to insist – nalegać, utrzymywać
to divulge sth – ujawnić coś (np. poufne dane)
gig – fucha, robota
overreaction – zbyt ostra reakcja
non-disclosure agreement – umowa o zachowaniu poufności
bog-standard – przeciętny, typowy (pot., UK)
boilerplate – standardowy, o typowym/stałym brzmieniu (o dokumencie)
to turn out – okazać się
nowadays – obecnie
sensitive to sth – wyczulony na coś
in public – publicznie
clause – klauzula (w kontrakcie)
mile-long – długi, ogromny
litany – litania (o czymś bardzo długim lub rozwlekłym)
to betray sb’s trust – zawieść czyjeś zaufanie
to stipulate – określić (warunek w kontrakcie)
restriction – ograniczenie
trade secrets – tajemnice handlowe
to reveal – ujawnić
stifling – duszny, ograniczający
to hold water – trzymać się kupy, mieć sens
freedom of speech – wolność słowa
notoriously – notorycznie
intellectual property – własność intelektualna
to specify – określać, wyznaczać
to serve as sth – pełnić jakąś rolę
twofold – dwojaki, dwukrotny
to prevent sb from doing sth – uniemożliwić komuś zrobienie czegoś
accidentally – przypadkowo
to lay sth out – przedstawić coś
firm – wiążący, wytyczony
to remain – pozostawać
intact – nienaruszony
given… – zwazywszy na…
sb’s John Hancock – czyjś podpis, parafa (pot.)
lapse in sth – potknięcie w czymś, chwilowy błąd w czymś
confidentiality – poufność
entry-level – najniższego poziomu, o najniższych wymaganiach (o pracy)
immutable – niezmienny
wiggle room – pole manewru
fine details – drobne szczegóły
to amend – zmienić, poprawić
to review – przejrzeć
one-sided – jednostronny
to ensure – zapewnić, upewnić (się)
inventor – wynalazca
in short – pokrótce, krótko mówiąc
unilateral – jednostronny
privy to sth – wtajemniczony w coś
deliverable – wynik pracy, zamówiony produkt/zadanie
timetable – rozkład, plan
middleware – programy pośredniczące, pośrednia warstwa oprogramowania
in-house – stworzony w firmie/na własne potrzeby firmy
to pertain to sth – dotyczący czegoś
stock – akcje, kapitał akcyjny
IPO (initial public offer) – pierwsza oferta publiczna (akcji)
buyout – wykup, przejęcie
vendor – wykonawca, zleceniobiorca
non-use – związany z zakazem użycia (informacji)
unfair advantage – nieuczciwa przewaga
third-party – osoby postronne, firmy/osoby z zewnątrz
sth is a no-brainer – coś jest rzeczą oczywistą
loose lips (sink ships) – długi język (mieć zbyt długi język)
job description – opis stanowiska
enforceable – dający się wyegzekwować
to result in sth – poskutkować czymś
measurable – widoczny, dający się zmierzyć
prospects – szanse, perspektywy
lawsuit – pozew, sprawa sądowa
discretion – dyskrecja
anonymously – anonimowo
breach – złamanie, naruszenie (np. kontraktu)
reasonably – rozsądnie, sensownie
vague – ogólnikowy
to hinder sth – utrudnić coś, przeszkodzić w czymś
to prohibit from doing sth – zabraniać robienia czegoś
to disallow – zabronić
to defeat the purpose of sth – czynić coś bezsensownym
in layman’s terms – mówiąc prosto, mówiąc prostym językiem
security measures – środki bezpieczeństwa, zabezpieczenia
to demand – żądać
to encrypt – szyfrować
extralegal – pozaprawny
disciplinary action – postępowanie/czynności dyscyplinarne
jurisdiction – jurysdykcja
amicable – polubowny
arbitrage – arbitraż
monetary fee – opłata, (kara) finansowa
damages – odszkodowanie
privileged – objęty tajemnicą zawodową
duration – czas trwania
obligation – zobowiązanie
indefinite – nieokreślony
overkill – przesada
via – przez, za pośrednictwem
sensible – rozsądny
to take credit for sth – uznać coś za swoje dokonanie, mieć wkład w stworzenie czegoś
act – ustawa
valid – właściwy (np. dla danego kraju)
precaution – środek zapobiegawczy
gag clause – klauzula kagańca, klauzula milczenia
sth for its own sake – coś tylko po to, aby było, coś co jest sztuką dla sztuki
to threaten – grozić
to lay blame – oskarżać
unreasonably – nadmiernie, w niesłuszny sposób
to hamper sth – przeszkodzić czemuś, utrudnić coś
further along the line – w dalszej perspektywie
due to – z powodu
overly – nadmiernie
error of oversight – przeoczenie
to point sth out – wskazać na coś, pokazać coś
if in doubt… – jeśli są wątpliwości/niejasności…
to talk things through – przegadać coś, przedyskutować
flat out – z mostu, kategorycznie

by Prochor Aniszczuk

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