Chester County officials are planning to modify a new ethics policy that included a strict confidentiality clause that would have banned county employees from sharing any information they learn on the job — including with relatives, friends, and the news media.

The changes to the confidentiality clause, which were proposed at the board of commissioners’ working session Tuesday, followed concerns raised by employees and an Inquirer report last week in which experts questioned the legality and constitutionality of such a broad blanket of confidentiality.

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One labor lawyer had called it a “gag provision,” and a representative of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association urged the commissioners to reconsider.

As proposed, the new policy would still prohibit employees from disseminating almost all information learned on the job — and retains problematic language deeming that information “strictly confidential.” But it would no longer include the sentence: “Dissemination includes information provided to family members, friends, and the press.”

The new policy also makes clear that employees who report wrongdoing to the appropriate entities are protected under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law.

“We want to be responsive to our employees’ concerns and we want to reassure our employees and the public that this policy was adopted with one intent: to ensure that we operate under the highest ethical standards,” Marian Moskowitz, chair of the Chester County commissioners, said at Tuesday’s meeting.

The county ethics policy initially passed in December, three months after an Inquirer report revealed problems with the county’s COVID-19 antibody testing program. That story had relied partially on leaked information — the type of dissemination that the confidentiality clause in the ethics policy would explicitly prohibit. Some county employees saw the move as an attempt to prevent future leaks.

Moskowitz said Tuesday, however, that the ethics policy had been in the works since early 2020. It also sets gift limits, prohibits political activity during work time, and defines what type of outside employment is allowed for county workers.

» READ MORE: Chester County spent $13 million on coronavirus antibody tests. Then it quietly shelved the program.

“Those guidelines are all intended to ensure that Chester County taxpayers receive the high standard of service they deserve and expect,” Moskowitz said. “We thank our employees and the media for their feedback on the policy.”

The changes proposed Tuesday are expected to come up for a vote when the Chester County commissioners meet on Thursday.

Polices that prohibit government employees from discussing their work have repeatedly been struck down by the courts as unconstitutional, according to the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.

Moskowitz said the ethics policy Chester County approved in December had mirrored Montgomery County’s. A spokesperson for Montgomery County said the county’s ethics policy does include a confidentiality clause, but no employee has ever been disciplined for violating it.

Ethics policies in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh prohibit employees from revealing government information, but generally only if divulged for personal gain. The state ethics act does not address the issue.