Seinfeld fans will remember the episode where George Costanza’s boss caught him sleeping with a cleaning lady on his desk, leading to this memorable exchange:
Mr. Lippman: It’s come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct?
George Costanza: Who said that?
Mr. Lippman: She did.
George Costanza: [pause] Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing is frowned upon… you know, cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time.
Mr. Lippman: You’re fired!
Funny stuff. Now, a former Ford employee is using a similar excuse to explain alleged trade-secrets theft.
According to this Detroit News article, the FBI is investigating a former Ford engineer who admitted planting listening devices in Ford’s meeting rooms. These devices recorded meetings, including ones not involving the engineer.
The engineer’s lawyer is quoted in the article. He essentially gives the Costanza defense, saying that his client used the devices to help her take notes. He’s pleading ignorance on his client’s behalf. She apparently did not know that it was improper to plant hidden recording devices in meeting rooms and leave them there to record meetings she did not attend.
We have no idea whether she is telling the truth. But just like George’s boss, the FBI seems skeptical.
There’s a lesson here. You need to let new employees know their obligations when it comes to protecting your confidential information. A written trade-secrets policy, as either a supplement to or part of an employee handbook, is a great start. The policy should prohibit recording meetings or other conversations without management’s approval.