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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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.