I've been working with this company for a quite some time, we don't have any formal agreement, I haven't signed anything. At the same time among our clients were some really big and well known companies, who gave us some documents and asked for NDA.

My employer shared with me those documents, so now I have them.

Right now we have an argument with employer and he refuses to pay me my salary for the last month.

My question is may I use those documents as a way to influence my employer, to force him to pay me? I never signed NDA, it was employer's initiative to share those documents. Is this legal, wouldn't it be qualified as blackmailing?

UPD

  1. My initial idea was to whistle-blow to a customer, that my employer broke NDA
  2. By "not signed any agreement" I mean that I have not signed absolutely anything: neither employment agreement nor NDA or contract or anything else.
  3. I live in the Eastern Europe and my employer resides in Asia. Lawyers in here are not as good as they are in western countries. Lawyer, who can deal with international issue, with Asia, probably, doesn't even exist.
  4. I highly doubt that I will be asked to continue to work or to sign NDA
  5. I have messages in messengers to prove that I was working, what salary we agreed on and what work I have done

closed as off-topic by OldPadawan, mxyzplk, GOATNine, Michael Grubey, Mister Positive Sep 26 at 11:46

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies should be directed to your manager or HR department. Questions that address only a specific company or position are of limited use to future visitors. Questions seeking legal advice should be directed to legal professionals. For more information, click here." – OldPadawan, mxyzplk, GOATNine, Michael Grubey, Mister Positive
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 10
    Questions seeking legal advice should be directed to legal professionals. Why hasn't this question been closed yet? – Mast Sep 22 at 8:03
  • Just to clarify: since you don’t have a contract — why are you expecting a pay?! What kind of agreement is there between you and the company (not “employer”, if there is no contract)? – Konrad Rudolph Sep 24 at 15:57

11 Answers 11

up vote 131 down vote accepted

Short answer: no.

Using these documents in a dodgy way (though you don't say what you want to do with them) is probably illegal and you will seriously damage your legal standing, to the point that you might have to pay damages yourself. Don't do it.

If your employer doesn't pay you, they're the ones breaking the law. Take the legal route, find some free consulting services if available in your locale and have your lawyer look at your contract and write a mean letter. This will do the job.

Breaking the law when someone else breaks the law will seldom work out well for you. These things have a way of biting you in the butt.

  • 6
    if you don't have a written contact for work consult a lawyer anyway, an email saying they will pay you for X or even a conversation you had in person are both forms of contracts that can be enforced ( though it will be more difficult), however be warned that this can be applied to the nda agreement, and the fact you acknowledge there is one could be enough to pass the burden onto you (depending on work contract) – J.Doe Sep 18 at 14:26
  • 5
    Instead of releasing the documents under the NDA, he could tell the companies that produced these documents "hey, my boss gave me them even though I haven't signed any NDA". That would probably be legal. But threatening to do this would still be blackmail and probably illegal. I am not a lawyer of course. – user31389 Sep 18 at 16:09
  • @user31389 Not sure how it goes. I was once given an presentation on another project and at some point the presenter stopped and said by the way, this is all NDA'd so keep it confidential. Not sure if there's something in my contract that binds me, but I didn't sign an NDA. Will keep a gentleman's agreement though. – rath Sep 18 at 16:22
  • I think I just have written in my contract to never disclose anything that's marked as confidential. But OP says he has no contract. – user31389 Sep 18 at 16:27
  • Even if he has signed an actual NDA but doesn't remember it, how can it be illegal to talk to the client company (source of data under potential NDA)? He might just end up looking dumb if he was actually under NDA which means the client company would have no objections to his boss giving him the data. – Mihail Malostanidis Sep 19 at 9:52

Rationalise it anyway you want, but it's still blackmail.

You have plenty of legal recourses specifically made to protect your rights to be paid that don't include playing games with other people's property.

  • 185
    It's also a good way to kill your reputation in your field. – Enric Naval Sep 18 at 15:05
  • 6
    It's probably a good idea for them to find a lawyer. Some things are better left to experts in a field. – peter Sep 19 at 8:43
  • 11
    @DragandDrop depends on various factors, but anything from jail to broken legs is a possibility once you start venturing into shady areas. – Kilisi Sep 19 at 10:05
  • 1
    @ESR the examples would be locale specific and best left to professional legal advice which is totally out of scope to this site. Asia is a pretty big place. – Kilisi Sep 21 at 1:59
  • 2
    And to add something here: No wrongdoing of other people protects you automatically from lawsuits – Sascha Sep 23 at 16:23

You have two entirely separate issues. If you mix them together, it will be harder to address them.

The lack of pay is probably illegal. You should talk to the labor department for your state if you live in the US. Other countries usually have a similar agency; consult a lawyer if you are unsure where to go.

Signing the NDA may be a requirement for keeping your job. If you refuse to sign it, your employer is likely forbidden from sharing protected documents with you---and this may affect your ability to work productively.

Even if you have concerns or questions about the legal consequences of the NDA, your employer should pay you for past work and continue to pay you for your work while you review the NDA.

Coercion is often illegal.

If you threaten to disclose anything that is protected by NDA, you may be breaking the law.

This is an excellent way to (A) get fired, (B) get sued, and/or (C) get prosecuted.

Do not make threats, and do not disclose proprietary company information.

If you act badly enough and get fired, you could even lose your unemployment benefits depending on the rules in your state.

Two wrongs don't make a right.

Your company is failing to live up to its responsibilities and pay you in a timely fashion. This does not give you the right to strike back. There are legal avenues for addressing your grievance; use them.

  • 7
    I think the OP was not considering releasing documents, I believe the threat would be to blow the whistle to the client that their company provided him with confidential documents in violation of the company's agreement with the client. It would most likely be legal to do such if they do not threaten to as a form of coercion (I am not a lawyer, and anyone taking legal advice from me deserves the result). I do agree that using the company's violation to blackmail them is probably illegal, and honestly stupid because they are legally owed the money. – kleineg Sep 18 at 16:56
  • 1
    If, they do want to contact the client as a whistle-blower, without threatening their company... I would suggest (IANAL) that they 1. Get their money owed first 2. sleep on it 3. contact a lawyer for advice 4. sleep on it again 5. realize that, legalities aside, this could have disastrous effects on their professional career. – kleineg Sep 18 at 17:00
  • Notifying them out of a sense of honesty or integrity is perfectly fine. However, that is not what he is doing; his motive would be entirely self-serving or retaliatory. Threatening your employer is an act of bad faith, and it may be enough to qualify as coercion or blackmail. Even if not, he can probably be fired. On the other hand, if he files a wage complaint with the DoL then he is legally protected from retaliation. – DoubleD Sep 18 at 17:03
  • Absolutely 100% agreeing with you. Actually, I realized that the OP never said anything about how they were going to "force" the company to pay them. My point was, the underlying action of whistle blowing to the client is unlikely to be a criminal action, threatening to do so almost certainly is. And leaking the information to a third party is certain to backfire, hard, in civil and possibly criminal court. – kleineg Sep 18 at 17:11

Let's assume your company has signed an NDA, and the NDA says specifically if they release any of the covered material, they have to pay a $100,000 fine.

And you release that covered material.

Can you see how the company would take you to court, and how a judge would make you pay that $100,000? As an employee, you have a duty not to cause damage to the company. If you do cause damage, and intentionally, expect that they will make you pay.

If they don't pay your salary, get a lawyer, and your lawyer will make them pay. You get your money, no trouble, everything is fine. If you try to blackmail them, expect a ton of hurt, including severe financial damage. And the company whose secrets you release, they will come after you as well.

  • 23
    Based on OP saying they don't have a formal agreement with the employer, a judge would likely rule that the employer was at fault, as sharing protected information with OP violated the NDA to begin with. If OP had a contract or other formal employment agreement, then you would be absolutely correct. – GOATNine Sep 18 at 13:35
  • 19
    I have been a part of an NDA violation suit in the USA before. It was the case that the employer had improperly shared material covered by the NDA with a contractor who was working for the employer on a different job. The contractor had accidentally disclosed the information to the customer on the project he was contracted for, who was a competitor of the IP owner. The employer that signed the NDA was suing to recover the NDA penalty and lost, as they had failed to protect the IP as laid out in the NDA. – GOATNine Sep 18 at 14:48
  • 4
    @GOATNine First, I am not a lawyer. Second, I am not a lawyer. Third, the calculus could be changed if, rather than an accidental disclosure, the OP intentionally leaks the information with the intention of damaging their company Forth, in addition to civil litigation the company can attempt (and could well succeed) to press criminal charges for blackmail. TLDR: The OP needs a lawyer, immediately, in no small part because of this very question. And alas it cannot be me, for some very good reasons stated above. – kleineg Sep 18 at 17:26
  • 5
    @kleineg I don't claim to be a lawyer either, but it still stands that, if the company shares NDA protected material with someone who is not covered by that NDA, they are in breach of the NDA. In the USA, successful lawsuits must prove damages. If the damage came from the original breach of NDA, the blackmailer is not liable. They are still guilty of blackmail/extortion and may be prosecuted criminally as such, but the civil liability just isn't there. I would wholeheartedly recommend against blackmailing anyone. Instead, let the original IP holder know of the NDA breach. – GOATNine Sep 18 at 18:21
  • 3
    @DavidSchwartz the ruling was that the employee was not at fault for the damages caused by the breach of the NDA. It's not like the employer lost a countersuit (that I know of). The employer caused the breach of the NDA, not the employee. In the case of this question, even malicious intent wouldn't release the employer from responsibility. The employee would face separate charges, perhaps, for criminal blackmail/extortion, but would not be civilly liable for damage to the employer caused by the breach of the NDA (which is demonstrably their fault, given OP is not under a formal agreement) – GOATNine Sep 20 at 12:14

There's really only one correct answer to questions like these:

Get A Lawyer

The answers here are not necessarily wrong, they're probably telling you some of the same things that a lawyer would, BUT you should not trust amateur opinions like ours, You Should Get a Good Labor Attorney.

In fact, you should have already gotten one as soon as your employer indicated that they where not going to pay you. And stop working for them (NOW) and find another job. If they're not paying you then you are no longer their employee, Get A Lawyer.

A lawyer can tell you immediately what your legal options are and which might be best for you. For instance, failure to get you to sign an NDA is probably a breach of their contract and NDAs with various customers. If that can be used to your benefit, you'll still need a lawyer to leverage it properly.

  • OP probably should contact a lawyer in any case, simply for asking this question. I however, am not one. – kleineg Sep 18 at 17:15
  • 5
    And in a situation where you need a lawyer, I’m fine with ten answers saying “you need a lawyer”. – gnasher729 Sep 19 at 10:48
  • 1
    @user1717828 no, it isn't! Completely different emphasis and explanations. commom newbie misconception. – Harper Sep 19 at 15:09

Your pay is governed by the terms in any contract you have signed. The lack of a formal agreement means that your employment is governed by the local applicable labor laws.

You need to understand what those laws are. You may need to contact your jurisdictions department of labor. But ultimately you may need a labor lawyer.

A labor lawyer should be able to explain what non-formal documents may apply to your situation. That could include emails, and other documents that would be proof of the time frame and hours involved. They will also be able to explain what documents you can use/keep and those you can't.

  • This. In my country we have a lot of people who work simple jobs, or day wage jobs who never have contracts but our local labour laws protect them and we have institutions who can help enforce these laws by opening arbitration between the parties before a lawsuit is needed. Learn your local labour laws – LiefdeWen Sep 18 at 14:37
  • // , This is in Asia, not the West. Be realistic. – Nathan Basanese Sep 19 at 17:31

I agree with other commenters, do not engage in whistleblowing or blackmailing. Your priority is sorting out the payments.

HOWEVER, the person dealing with your pay may not be aware that you hold documents covered under NDA. I suggest - only if things are not going well, or if they delay in getting back to you - you email them saying:

"FYI, as part of my work with [name of company that owes you money], I was given files XYX, which are covered under NDA from [name of other company]. What would you like me to do with them: keep them for future work with you, or delete them? "

If they respond with a request to delete the files, then you can reply:

"No problem - when this project is wrapped up, I will gladly delete the files.
However, the files are part of the evidence of the working agreement between me and [name of company that owes money]. So until we come to an agreement for payment for the work I have done for [company name], apologies I cannot delete the files."

That will make them aware of the situation and that there is something they need to address as a priority. If they start telling you to do things under the NDA, then you can politely respond that you were not asked to sign a NDA.

At all steps, avoid blaming the person you are dealing with. You want them to be on your side in getting it sorted out. Hopefully they will realise that a) someone else in the company messed up and b) they have to sort out the mess c) if they piss you off, the company might hold them responsible since they are the agent dealing with you.

Being polite and helpful also avoids the company panicking and dragging in the company lawyers since in that situation you might have to pay your own lawyer and / or wait years for payment.

  • You need to be very careful with the wording of such communication because it could easily be seen as a veiled threat and hence fall into the same category as straight-up blackmail. – DaveMongoose Sep 21 at 11:49
  • 2
    IANAL, but as I understand it, in many legal jurisdictions it's illegal to hold someone's property to ransom as leverage for resolving a different dispute. Writing an email where you admit to potentially committing a crime may not be the smartest legal strategy to adopt. – Laconic Droid Sep 21 at 13:35

Do not even consider this. If you intentionally cause someone else to break a contract with the intent of harming either party to the contract, you will incur civil liability.

It is a surprisingly common misconception that contracts may be freely ignored by people who are not parties to those contracts. This is not so. Contracts create actual legal rights to the benefits of those contracts and third parties who interfere with those rights are just as liable as if they interfered with any other legal right. Those interested in legal details and history can research tortious interference .

So no. If you intentionally and knowingly cause your employer to violate a contract, then you will be liable for the damages that violation causes.

wasd, you are in a bad situation here. I agree that it's highly unlikely that you can get legal redress for your predicament. Your employer knows this, which is why for whatever reason they have decided to withold payment.

The thing is, no matter what you do you're unlikely to ever work for your current employer again. So you shouldn't worry too much about that part, unless you think you can somehow get this relationship back on the rails, get paid, and go on as before (minus trust on your part of course).

I don't think waving confidential documents and threatening either your employer or the client will do much for you, all you'll accomplish is to get them to unite against you. However, I think you may be able to get some help from the client if you appeal to them directly. Have you ever been allowed to be in contact directly with the client, do you have any contact info for someone who can judge whether you have in reality been doing the work? Or can you deduce from the documents in your possession who is working on the project?

Chances are the clients don't even know you've been involved. If you get in touch and tell them politely that you've been doing the actual work (some sample included? code, document?) and that you're in a dire situation because you're not getting paid by the intermediary, chances are that they'll be on your side, and apply pressure to your employer. Only if that doesn't seem to be working at all should you even mention that your employer has been throwing their confidential documents around the world carelessly.

I recall a scandal when outsourcing was just starting, when workers in India complained to the University of California because they hadn't been paid in months. It turned out that their pay was minuscule, and there were at least FIVE layers of contractors lining their pockets on the way down. These people were handling sensitive patient data for a hospital, and the university had no idea the data was leaving the first contractor at all. Needless to say, they were paid promptly. But maybe in part because their story was also picked up by the press, and public outcry put pressure on the university.

So anyway, my advice would be to first try to get the client to help, by appearing to be very cooperative, informing them of what's going on behind their back, being concerned about the nature of the information being handed out carelessly. And if that doesn't work, by all means go to the press in the client's country and see if you can get some help there. It'd help if what you have in hand concerns not just the business interests of the client, but there's some angle of breaching the public's privacy or something like that.

Good luck..

As other say, the best advise here is getting a lawyer.

Furthermore, from the voice of experience avoid signing whatever document without showing them to a lawyer, whichever the "urgency" it may be conveyed.

Often the legalese can be intentionally obscure and/or unrelated documents and very similarly worded documents can be slipped up in a stack of "documents to sign".

Also, I would investigate whether any clause that says that the contract can only be disputed by the employer local laws/location, might be void, as soon as the contact is broken by either party. It is such the case in my country; as again, talk with a lawyer. You might not even have to deal with Asian laws.

This answer will be controversial and offers a different path. If you want to go down that path:

  1. Call them using that old device called a telephone in order to not leave a track of what was said. Be advised they could record the call on their end.

  2. Then tell them via telephone, I have this NDA and I'm telling the client you gave this stuff to me thus breaking the NDA. (Informing the client of the NDA breach and threatening with public release are different things.)

    • If you want call them from a different number like a payphone. You'll still identify yourself, of course, but then anyone looking at log calls cannot associate that number to you by using metadata alone. I don't think it is worth the trouble... just something to keep in mind. (Do realize it would kind of suck if you ran out of $$ during the call, hence your own phone might be safer in that respect. You should perform your threat only once.)
  3. If later they accuse you of that threatening call, you can say the call was about receiving the salary and deny that threat existed. Unless they record it, they can't prove it. Hence the use of voice and nothing written.

Note 1: Do it only once (i.e. the call), and do it right, since they may record it at a second call. And if they call you back tell them "as per your previous talk you expect to receive what your owed" and make no mention of threat. This tells them you expect the money, but by not mentioning the content of the previous talk you avoid getting nailed because they might record it. They might attempt to have you write something that compromises you by doing some kind of email follow up, don't fall for that.

Note 2: Calling a lawyer is always the best option. But (contrary to many people, it seems) I'm very aware that, unfortunately, not everyone can afford one. Sometimes the court costs alone might be more that what you are owed.

Note 3, buyer beware: I'm not a lawyer, I don't like lawyers, and I am not responsible if you end up in legal troubles.

  • P.S. If you realize no money is going to be received, you can be a penile head and place the document on the web. Just do it securely (e.g. not from home, IP address tracking). Document might be digitally watermarked, but if several people have the same document copied around it is unlikely they can be sure it was you. They'll know it deep in their heart, I'm positive, but won't be able to prove it. – Daniel Sep 24 at 1:48

protected by mcknz Sep 24 at 2:13

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.