Lessons we can learn from The Stig

Following the case at the High Court yesterday in which the BBC was unsuccessful in preventing the disclosure of the identity of their popular figure “the Stig”, we have been advising employers to carefully look at confidentiality clauses in any employment contracts.

Fans of the programme will know that the identity of the Stig is always kept anonymous, but a forthcoming book, authored by the man behind the racing helmet is set to reveal all.

The Stig, an employee of the BBC, was tied to a confidentiality clause.

Although the details of the High Court case have not been disclosed, many commentators believe that the reason the BBC was not successful in obtaining an injunction preventing the Stig from disclosing his identity was because his identity could be discovered in the public domain.

This obviously raises the question of the value of confidentiality clauses in any employment contract.

Any employer is entitled to have protection from their trade secrets being disclosed by present and former employees.

Many standard confidentiality clauses in employment contracts will go further than this, and this case is a useful illustration of the potential problems that some employers may have enforcing such confidentiality clauses.

As with any employment contract, the contract itself should be specifically tailored to the individual and the business needs that the clause seeks to protect.

This is particularly the case when considering issues of confidentiality – clearly, a confidentiality clause to protect the disclosure of information that is already in the public domain will in many cases be unenforceable.

Nevertheless, confidentiality clauses do serve a useful purpose. Employers should certainly consider inserting them into their employment contracts if they do not already have the benefit of such clauses.

Jonathan Holden
Forbes Solicitors