Keeping Staff Members Mum About Family Secrets

A comedian claims to have emails that Sarah Jessica Parker sent to her household staff containing very specific instructions for how staff should perform their duties.

For example, one email instructs staff to refill a tiny 1.75-ounce container of Vaseline with a small spoon or knife and then hand wash the utensil using a paper towel before putting it in the dishwasher. Another has instructions for how hard Ms. Parker's twin daughters should blink when staff administers their eye drops.

The comedian read the allegedly real emails aloud during her comedy routine. Jessica Gibb "Sarah Jessica Parker has some very diva demands for her household staff as comedian claims to have the emails," (Oct. 13, 2017).

Commentary and Checklist

Even if the above emails are authentic, as opposed to being spoken about as part of a comedy routine, the family employer in this case may well have had good health-related reasons for her detailed instructions.

These details, however, are of no concern except to the employer and to the staff member in charge of implementing them. When staff reveal personal details, this becomes a serious disciplinary issue. Although certain personal details can be innocuous if revealed, others could lead to a safety issue by compromising a family employer’s location or travel plans.

For this and other reasons, it is important for staff to sign a confidentiality agreement. We list below some of the points a confidentiality agreement should possess.

When staff does leak private information, make certain to manage the leak in professional manner. Do not immediately accuse staff of wrongdoing or take negative employment action against staff you suspect leaked family secrets. Instead, have a third party conduct a thorough investigation into the leak. If the investigation concludes that a staff member is responsible, follow the confidentiality agreement and/or your policies for the ramifications for divulging private information. 

Aspects of a staff confidentiality agreement to consider include terms like the following:

  • All private family and family business information, communications, photographs, videos, and electronic communications should not be shared with a third party.
  • Before divulging family information, the staff member must obtain written and signed authorization from the employer beforehand, specifying the information.
  • Although privacy is the interest family employers wish to protect, have legal counsel couch the prohibition, for example, as one against misappropriation of photos, videos, etc. on the joint basis that these photos and videos should be protected for their commercial economic value and privacy value.
  • Violation of the agreement will lead to disciplinary action. Depending on the severity of the breach, consequences could include a civil lawsuit or criminal prosecution.
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