[Q&A] Leaking Employer’s Confidential Information and Employment Termination : What Is Confidential Information under Korean Law?

“Hello, I am a U.S. citizen working for a Korean listed company.  Recently my company sent me a dismissal notice saying I had breached the employment contract by leaking their confidential information.  Informations at issue are a set of sale/purchase statements of the company.  I downloaded those informations from the company’s server to my personal email account.  But, there has been no warning mark of confidentiality.  My other colleagues have a free access too, and the information sometimes was provided to our suppliers.  Did I really breach the confidentiality of my Korean employer?”  

Leaking employer’s confidential information could result in a termination of the employment contract.  The legal issue, however, still remain whether or not the information can be regarded as a confidential information.

Most employers in Korea have their own rules of employment which state what is a confidential information.  And even an employment contract could list a set of confidential informations which the employee should not disclose to 3rd parties.  But, defining what is a confidential information is a matter of law and, therefore, the Korean court does not always follow the definition which an employer had been set in their internal documents.

The Korean court has well-established precedent that the confidential information should be more than just any information acquired by an employee during the course of daily work.  According to the court, the confidential information must be (i) not easily attainable and not known to the outside of the company, (ii) have a substantial value and its disclosure could cause harm to the company, and (iii) the company must have tried every measure to keep it confidential including putting a ‘confidential’ mark on it.

That said, I don’t think any of the information which the company is alleging for breach of confidentiality does fall on those thresholds of confidential information.  The informations were freely accessible, sometimes provided to 3rd party by other employees, and have not even marked as confidential.

In a similar case involving an employee of Samsung who had been fired for sending sale/purchase statements of the company from his work email account to his personal email account, the court held that the information was not confidential and, therefore, the company’s dismissal notice was void.  The court explained that there was no mark of “confidential’ and the company had not installed a security system which can prevent the employees from downloading or sending the information to his personal PC or email account.

If you have any question regarding this article or a similar case/situation , please visit our Legal Consultation center or send your inquiry email by clicking here.  Our Korean qualified lawyer will answer your inquiry.

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