September 20, 2023 | Melissa Budish

Ex-Employees Reveal The Truths Of The NDAs They Are No Longer Bound By

Employees are often asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, to protect the company from the risk of leaked secrets. Most employees abide by their NDAs while they are still at their companies, but once they leave, they are no longer bound by the agreements and they feel like they are free to talk about whatever they want. Here are the truths of NDAs revealed by ex-employees.

#1 Out Of My Hands

Moments after I was unceremoniously fired because my tech skills were found to be insufficient, the bosses who fired me demanded to know the whereabouts of a hugely important computer file I had worked on. I refused to help them. I even cited the exact language of the NDA I was compelled to sign: "I am prohibited from disclosing details of my employment with anyone, including past and current employees of the company," I expounded, adding: "So ask someone who works here because I don't anymore." It was a great moment that I still cherish five years later, but now I think I can disclose the truth: I only hid behind the NDA language because I had no clue where to find their computer file... or even where to look. I suck with computers.

Shocked person and cocky person split image

#2 The Pillsbury Fake

A woman who ran a super successful home bakery business was literally just using Pillsbury cake mix (and this is how I learned what Pillsbury was as we don't have it in England). She had the odd hack or two and was seriously good at decorating apparently, but she was essentially just using cake mix. She even talked about how she felt like a fake, got nauseous about going to the grocery store, and HATED the sight or taste of any cake.


#3 The Ringer

My best friend who is a designer won my town’s “design the centennial logo” contest, despite having never set foot in the town. I worked for the radio station, and just did an interview with one of the organizers, where he lamented that there weren’t very many entries. So I called my friend and said, “Want in on this?” He said, “Sure!”

As he lived on the other side of the country at the time, I spent the next day texting him photos of the town for inspiration. Anyway, when he won and they found out he was a professional designer who lived on the other side of the country, they made him and me sign NDAs because the town was afraid people would think they brought in a ringer.


#4 Ancient Bones

I dug up some (ancient) bones, gold, and Mycenaean tombs! I couldn’t discuss the finds until the institution who ran the archaeological dig could publish the data. I’m a classics student — not the one running the whole dig, but my role in it was very much allowed and official lol. We knew to dig there because there was another tomb next to it, and it’s located near a big Mycenaean Bronze Age palace. I only dug there for one summer but it was a blast.


#5 NASA Secrets

I was a contractor for NASA. I still fully support the agency, but I was extremely bugged when I learned that each separate NASA center (e.g., JPL, Kennedy, Ames, Goddard) hides many of its inventions and breakthroughs from the other centers so that when HQ is ready to assign a big mission (and a lot of dollars) to one center, they have a better chance to compete over the others. “Look what we invented! Ames can’t do this over there! Give us the next moon orbiter!”

The downside is that there is a ton of reinvention and duplicated efforts going on. Sometimes years of work go down the drain when another center does the same thing faster. My perspective was: you all work for NASA. Share knowledge, collaborate. I was frequently ordered to tone down anything revealing when speaking to other centers.


#6 Money Is Zero-Sum

This is true for many government agencies. The issue is that money is zero-sum, and if one program is getting money, it is getting cut from another program. So everyone is fighting to get their share and avoid having to make staffing cuts. Fixing this would probably require a fundamental change in the Executive Branch as well as the appropriations process.

We would have to move from a leadership system in which you have new political appointees coming in every few years who aren't familiar with the programs to permanent leadership who are focused on making all the different sub-agency departments work synergistically. Appropriations would have to change to have predictable funding levels for each program for several years.


#7 Tort Settlements

As a lawyer, I've viewed a lot of these in tort settlements. A tort is a civil wrong, that is, not a crime but something you can sue over. The most common is negligence: for example, a company was negligent in storing barrels and one rolled through the parking lot, crushing my leg. Therefore, I sued. The most common use of the NDA is to keep the award amount quiet so everyone won't sue the company hoping to get that sweet, sweet settlement money.


#8 Duct-Taped Economy

I used to do data analysis of revenue management for some big companies. Many companies have no clue about their data or their revenue streams. I'm talking several million dollars of revenue disappearing in the pipeline and no one knowing what happened with it. There were multiple times I had to inform clients that we had huge gaps in their costs and we needed to find the missing numbers somewhere in order to make our final reports correct and was met with the (paraphrased) reply: just sprinkle the missing costs over the existing one. We just want the final total to be correct.

All the companies cared about if the amount of money they have at the end of the year is higher than at the beginning and anything that happens in between is inconsequential. I objected at first to my bosses, saying that what we were doing was incorrect, but they said to just do as the client said. In the end, I got disillusioned and whenever our clients came with requests that made no mathematical or logical sense, I'd just execute as requested and let their analysts figure out later that the analysis they paid 6 figures for was basically nonsense.

I didn't care, because I had documentation of all their requests and my objections which were thoroughly ignored. I had a few cases where clients came back disgruntled several months down the line after some in-house analyst had done a deep dive of their data and came up with objections that I had pointed out months before. I'd usually dig up the relevant emails and clear my name. My choice of action was to tell them to pound sand, but my bosses always bent over backward for clients, so we'd have to do the cleanup I anticipated.

In the end, I learned most of our economy is held together by duct tape and wishful thinking. At most 10% of people working at big companies are competent and carry the bulk of the work and rarely are the competent ones the ones in charge.


#9 Making Bank

One of our clients was Coca-Cola. I'm not afraid to mention them as they were one of the few clients that really had themselves together. Their data was usually pretty on point and they were extremely thorough. These big-name companies make bank but many of them had absolutely no clue where that bank was coming from. The key account managers just cared that their totals were good. Individual revenue streams didn't matter as long as in the end, the sum total was fine.


#10 Go Ahead, Sue Me

Did you know NDAs are only good if you have the money to sue? I worked with a company that didn't pay me, so I told them their NDA didn't apply. They threaten to sue. My response was, "You can't even afford to pay me, you sure as heck can't afford to sue." They also don’t extend to keeping you from reporting activity to the justice system. Some places may try to make people believe that and may even try to imply it in the NDA, but it has no standing.


#11 A Secret School Scandal

Well this is already public knowledge, and they forgot to have me sign an NDA anyway, but Savannah College of Art and Design's ombudsman Sofia Bagnoli (the independent person who's supposed to represent students in cases of unfair treatment by the school) married one of the school's vice presidents to and is now Sofia Alletto. It's definitely a conflict of interest but she's still serving as "independent" ombudsman, and currently refusing to help students get any kind of refund now that all their classes are online and they don't have access to the expensive equipment their expensive tuition is supposed to be paying for.


#12 Easy Pretzels

When I was fired from Auntie Anne's in 2010, I signed a 10-year non-compete and NDA contract, promising not to detail the baking secrets or work for another pretzel establishment. Well, that ended this year so now I can run out and start a pretzel store because the secret I was keeping was making pretzels literally only needs two products, one of them being water and the other a large bag of pretzel meal or powder. Quite literally anyone with $2,500 can start a pretzel stand and make perfectly fine pretzels, it's not difficult whatsoever.


#13 Loading...

I think I'm finally ready to let the world know my secret. If you've ever used VeriCite,  the loading spinners you see when the report loads aren't waiting for anything. People kept complaining that reports were coming back too fast, so it must not be working right (it doesn't take long to complete a few hundred Google searches simultaneously). The loading spinner just makes you wait a few seconds longer so it feels like more is happening. I'm SO glad to finally get that off my chest!


#14 Stale Cupcakes

I worked at a small bakery in New York City when I was younger. Every morning, the bakery would take their day-old cupcakes and deliver them to a tour company. The tour company would pass our cupcakes off as cupcakes from Magnolia, which was a significantly more popular bakery. I went on that tour with my ex-wife and ate one of those cupcakes. It was disappointing... Definitely stale.


#15 The Megalomaniac

The owner of the company is an absolute psycho. They have been trying to hire developers for years now, and they can't keep them. I quit after three days. I was trying to help out on a high priority bug on my third day when I said: "All the requests to the endpoint are failing." He replied, "I see one out of 500 requests succeeding, does that sound like "all" to you?"

He then called a company-wide all-hands meeting and proceeded to tell everyone how important it is that we all speak carefully and that we don't need people like me lying to the company making it harder to diagnose issues. I told him to screw himself and quit on the spot. Turns out, the company has a big history of this. My boss who had been there for two weeks had tried to quit the week prior but was convinced to stay on to meet me. He left a few days after me.

Apparently a few people got together and tried to tell the owner that he needs to watch how he talks to people, and he blew them up about it too. I later heard that I was something like the 10th person to quit within their first month in a row! The sad truth is that the dude actually seems pretty smart, but has been acting like a megalomaniac while he pisses his money away and mistreats his employees that are for whatever reason unwilling to leave.


#16 Game Secrets

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 will have microtransactions. The NDA was signed in 2016. I was getting more and more worried as the release date kept getting closer, and then it happened. Back then, the build of the game I saw wasn't even a game. Everything was in PDF and in the planning stage of development. So I can confirm that the "star cards" and the whole progression system were planned since day one. Also, Finn and Phasma were fully developed and playable as early as June 2017.


#17 No Trust

McDonald’s made me sign an NDA regarding an incident that took place during a graveyard shift. They made me take a freaking polygraph test because they thought my ex and I were involved due to the simple fact that I had stopped by that day to pick up some documents. (I was a manager, I had business to do). Screw you, McMierda.


#18 Watercooler Convos

I had to sign an NDA to work at this tech company, and I’m still waiting to accidentally overhear something cool so I can feel special for knowing something important but being barred from disclosing it. Having signed NDAs and held security clearances before, I can say that the information that was actually protected for me ended up being very boring for normal people, but very important to competitors who are hoping for that slight edge.


#19 Soap Secrets

I worked at a gym. And in the showers, there was yellow shampoo and blue body wash in pump dispensers. I found out that the only difference between the two soaps was the color.  Hand soap was blue, the body wash was green, the shampoo was yellow. All the same. It wasn't an NDA about soap. It was just a generic employment NDA to protect the privacy of members and business affairs of the gym.


#20 Sweaty Donuts

I used to work for a large gas station chain. I worked at its warehouse where it creates a lot of the donuts. The room was really hot so we were always sweating. There are some machines where the donuts get glazed in chocolate. They’re these small machines they look almost like a BBQ grill. They always wanted us to be super fast at glazing the donuts. Working in a hot room and working at super-fast speeds meant it was natural for a lot of people's sweat to just drip in the chocolate underneath us. Never eat the chocolate donuts from a gas station.


#21 The IT World

In the IT world, it is often that the piece of internal software or system that gives your company an edge is not quite as huge a deal as it seems. Often it is not much more than a couple of technologies mashed together to automate things in a way nobody else is doing yet. And those things are fiercely guarded. I had cases where people saw stuff in action and tried to replicate it but could not because they were missing just one small piece.


#22 Hypothetically Speaking

I'd rather not risk it, but let's just say HYPOTHETICALLY that a certain tech company who is, ahem, inside, keeps its campuses pretty subpar. I'm talking old, run-down buildings that need dozens of buckets everywhere to catch water every time it rains. They mean companies and the local economy to put up with their nonsense because they know they're too big to hear a no. Hypothetically.


#23 An Undisclosed Breach

I never had an NDA on this, but if I give too much information, I'll get tagged and likely get in serious trouble. BCBS had a severe security breach back in 2007. If you were with them in a certain area of the country and ever called the number for help on your account, ALL of your personal information was caught by a third party. Every caller, every piece of data. They never disclosed this breach.


#24 Hush Pricing

I once had to sign an NDA to get a price on a printer for my sign shop. This was a printer that was only sold by one distributor, by the way, so there wasn't even any direct competition on this particular model. I think the gimmick was that if they make a really big deal out of giving you this super-secret pricing that you'd be lulled into thinking it was really something special.


#25 A Two-Person Company

Their machine doesn't do what they want it to. Because they designed it and they're not engineers. Also, all investments into their company are investments into a long term project that they're making out will take way less time than it will. I'm afraid I never worked for Theranos or Tesla. I actually can't name the company but it hires two people currently.


#26 Zoo Problems

I used to work at a zoo. One day, the electricity failed, so the polar bears and wolves were able to break out of their barbed-wire compounds. The zookeeper told me this while I was located in a kiosk that was situated right next to both the wolves and polar bears. Yikes. Luckily, they decided to not test the fences that day. I had to keep this a secret while working there, but have been working other jobs for a few years now.


#27 Bank Battle

I signed an NDA after negotiating a six-figure settlement with my mortgage lender. Back in 2013, the bank sold my home, while I was living there and making monthly payments. I discovered this when “new owners” evicted me and my three kids. At the time, I thought someone was trying to take my identity, etc. I spent the next two years writing documents and had to represent myself in court. (The bank “owned” every legit firm I contacted. Also, the first lawyer I hired took my last $7,000 and was promptly disbarred for misconduct with previous cases.) I had no money, no home but I had a laptop, printer, and access to the county court law library.

We were about a week away from selecting a jury, when we came to a settlement agreement. In the end, each of my kids (now in their twenties) got an inexpensive new car and I live at the beach. “Which bank?” you ask. I can’t tell you the name, but might I suggest that it rhymes with “case.” They settled because they were worried that if the case went to trial, it would become public. Then, everyone would know, for certain, that they had lied, cheated, and swindled to take homes from hardworking people. The bank would lose when no one took out new loans with them.


#28 The Waterfall Fable

My best friend worked at a roadside attraction near Chattanooga, TN, called Ruby Falls (there's something else called Ruby Falls elsewhere in the country). It's supposedly a waterfall inside a cave. Of course, the trail to the cave is re-done with all sorts of rock brought in from around the world—I think they've owned up to that part now.

But the "waterfall" itself is barely a trickle naturally, and then only in the wetter season. They've run a pipe up there to supplement the falls, hidden by cracks and crevices and cemented over, and powered by a pump off to the side, which you can't hear when the water is splashing down from 100 feet overhead. It's 99% from the City of Chattanooga (or maybe Lookout Mountain) municipal water supply.

Of course, with such a wet area, old electrical wires going back to the Great Depression, and 300 feet underground, it sputters, or shorts out and stops every now and then. The first rule in the Falls Room is "make everybody leave immediately if the power goes out," not for safety, but because the fable agreed-upon will be shown as fake.


#29 Suffering Dogs

I worked at a dog boarding “hotel” that did similar things. We would provide these packages that allowed your dog a nice dog bed and toys and extra treats before bed. Most of the time the dog's beds were taken out because they chew them up. But we couldn’t tell the clients that so they would pay for a service they didn’t get.

Also most of the time employees would forget to give the nightly treats, I always made a point to but when I worked morning shifts I would notice no one checked it off the night before. Honestly, if you care about your dog you’re 100% better off hiring a personal dog care provider. That is one person who will care for your dog and not outsource to others. Because even though there were good employees in the “hotel” there were also lazy ones. And it’s your dog that’ll suffer.


#30 Kiss My Behind

The $100-million-dollar electronic component broker that I worked for shafted me out of $900k in commissions when I was in my early 20s. They assumed I would not have enough money to fight them in court and they took their shot. I got a lawyer on contingency, sued them, and took home a $500k settlement in 2000. The 20-year NDA recently expired and they can continue to kiss my behind until their graves.


#31 "Group" Work

Back when EpiPens selling for 400 dollars was big in the news, I was part of an engineering student team working on a better and cheaper device. It would have two doses in one pen (since a lot of people are advised to carry two pens). You would administer one shot and then if needed, twist the pen and then administer the second. The epinephrine cartridge was replaceable too so if you didn't use the pen for a year or two and it expired, you just got the cheap epinephrine cartridge (epinephrine is cheap) and replaced it. I ended up leaving the team because no one was contributing to the project except me.


#32 Wrongful Termination

I was wrongfully terminated by a past employer. They low-balled the settlement offer and withheld payment on my accrued vacation (this part was actually not allowed). It took about a year to get to the point where their attorneys realized that we were not lying about them holding back the accrued vacation and this caused them to make a more than generous offer to make my claim against them go away.


#33 Fooling A Fool

After eight years and doubling sales of the branch he was responsible for, a couple of guys from the head office walked my brother out "with a cause." The last year on record at the time was also their biggest year by about 10%. They sent him an offer on a Friday night and said they needed it signed by Monday morning. Someone in their head office forgot that you can't fool a fool. He ended up suing and winning way more than the pittance they offered.

A couple of months later, two and a half days before Christmas, they walked me out the door. The worst part was I was almost on holiday for a week. Had they not gotten me before Christmas, the calendar year would have changed over and I would have been entitled to profit sharing. Screw AMI.


#34 Magical Device

I was asked to sign an NDA to be able to see the "magical device" they had that was going to change the game for IT services! It was an APU board that had the company's logo stamped on it and it ran PFSense. This magical technology was and is still available for about $150 a unit. I got quite a strange look when I had to explain that their NDA would mean nothing as the item was WIDELY available and known. Side note: they are pretty awesome. For anyone wanting to use PFSense-based gateways or routers, it's a lot nicer than an old PC taking up a bunch of space.


#35 Admissions Scam

The university I used to teach at did not care what prospective students got for entry into the university. In multiple meetings I attended, they treated students as headcounts towards better course statistics and if a single student was underperforming in a single semester, instead of removing them they would give them JUST ABOVE the threshold to stay on. This happens across a lot of universities. Final grading decisions were not down to me but course directors and head lecturers. I had raised it multiple times to an anonymous hotline at the university, but nothing was ever done.


#36 Google And Apple

Google has a reputation for getting into a lot of stuff and canceling after throwing a lot of money and effort at something, and it's a bad enough reputation that people don't think anything they do will stick around. Lots of other companies are the same, they're just better at keeping things quiet. Apple has probably blown through as much money and canceled as many projects, and by simply not being as open about it they maintain more of their credibility and reputation.


#37 About A Frat Boy

I used to work as a programmer for Bloomberg. During the time, Mike was mayor, he would often have Bloomberg staff work on programming efforts for the city in order to have control over them. I worked on several DOE applications so that Bloomberg didn't have to negotiate contracts with teachers. I also worked on his mayoral elections many times. All the harassment claims are true. Bloomberg was a frat boy and so were his lieutenants.


#38 Easy Computer Stuff

The unique video recording software that is the backbone of the largest dance video company in the world is really just something that anyone could throw together in C with basic programming knowledge. It's just a program that starts and stops recording multiple inputs at the same time whenever you press a button and saves a text file for organizing.


#39 The Conspicuous Loophole

I worked grueling hours for low pay for a year for friends of mine, helping them build up their small vegan donut company. Eventually, I had to get another job to make ends meet and they had a disagreement about it. They flipped out and started sending me all sorts of threatening texts about how they would sue me if I ever worked with food again, so I had to go to a lawyer. Turns out, the NDA was poorly written and therefore not binding so I can essentially give out their recipe.


#40 Sensitive Information

I’m a preschool teacher so whenever I go to a new school I have to sign some NDA type form about not talking about what the children do, look like, names, what the children tell me about their home life. Because kids will tell me frequently about family passings, conflicts with their caregivers, where their parents go to work, and other sensitive information.


#41 Overly Clean

I used to work for ConAgra foods, specifically the Hebrew National Hot Dog Plant. It's honestly all amazing, the rabbis are nice and the hot dog making process is not as gross as everyone thinks when the meat is all beef. There is probably a small amount of cleaning solvent in every hot dog you eat though, they spray that stuff everywhere.


#42 McCain Pizzas

I used to work at a company that made small frozen mini pizzas. You know the kind... they came in packs of four. Each layer of two was joined together. About 5.75" across. It was McCain. They had a crust, sauce, five slices of pepperoni, and shredded cheese. After being cooked, there was some melted cheese. There were also some shredded cheese bits that didn't melt... they browned. The reason for that is simple... mozzarella cheese is expensive, the shredded frozen dough is dirt cheap. The "shredded cheese" was about 65% cheese, and about 35% shredded dough. They didn't have to list it on the ingredients because the dough for the crust was the exact same.


#43 My Boss's Secret

I no longer work here. However, my boss (who is also the owner of the company) had an affair that ended up in a divorce. The guy she had an affair with, who lived a state away (10+ hour drive), basically told her to get out and that he wasn't leaving his family for her. It didn't stop her purchasing a property in the same suburb as the guy she cheated on her husband within the name of the business supposedly to do positive things for the business yet make the decision to move into said property not even a month after settlement.


#44 Weird School Experience

My old Christian school made my parents sign an NDA about their worship practice. I spent more time memorizing Jesus than math; when I transferred to public school in fourth grade I was absolutely astounded at the concept of multiplication. I thought it was something I came up with; they never taught multiplication or division. They also taught that girls needed to be subservient to boys and let them do whatever they wanted, which resulted in a power dynamic issue and a lot of mean behavior. No parent could sue the school for child endangerment because of the NDA.


#45 Taking Code

The company I worked for openly encouraged us to take code from open source projects and make it look like our code. There was a whole team whose job was to make sure the code looked like the company's code. And they kept filing for patents world over as their own. It is for this reason that I try to never pay for software and always go for open source. At least you know the vulnerabilities.


#46 Tight-Lipped

I worked for a consumer packaged goods company that was working on a promo with a certain Marvel sequel. I was privy to the plot of said movie a good eight months before it came out. I was anxiously waiting in the theater for the collective "gasp" when Captain America lifted Mjolnir. It was the best secret I'd ever had to keep.


#47 Insurance Bias

I worked for State Farm years ago. I was writing a policy on a gentleman with the last name Ortiz. I accidentally misspelled his name “Otriz” on the quote and it generated a really decent price. Once I corrected the error to “Ortiz” it generated a much more expensive quote. I don’t necessarily have proof that State Farm was overcharged Hispanic customers but this was my experience.


#48 Read The Ingredients

Still not mentioning any names, but I used to work for a place that made brand-name lotions, shampoos, conditioners, face creams, etc. All organic. Well, you know that bottle of "baby" sunscreen you're about to spend a few extra dollars on that is actually made by the same company of the "adult" version you use? Yea, don't bother; it's the same exact formula, just packaged differently. Read the ingredients on the back before you waste your money.


#49 Music Sweatshop

I worked for Hans Zimmer who runs a music sweatshop. When he was out of town, his composers would party, drink, and hang out on the roof while making their interns work for nothing. When he came back into town, everyone became a suck-up and pretended like they were important. They all took themselves seriously. Honestly, screw Hans Zimmer.



Penn Jillette likes to spill the beans about Trump from his time on the apprentice. It’s funny hearing stories from SNL cast members too, from when he hosted the show for some ungodly reason. I think it was Bill Hader who said basically anytime Trump screwed up a line (which was frequent) he would insist he didn’t flub, and instead it was a choice he made that “frankly made it better.” He just said the whole thing was bizarre. Weirder than normal for SNL.



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