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Employee Privacy & Improper Disclosure

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Consider All Personal Information Is Private

The issue of privacy is a murky mix of legal, ethical, and practical considerations. Privacy laws vary by state – there is no “one size fits all” model regarding disclosure of personal information. You must find out firsthand from your HR manager, employee assistance professional, or other advisor. At the very least, always keep personal information safe and confidential.

Areas Of Concern

Throughout the course of employment, you may have access to one or more pieces of information about an employee that could be personally damaging or embarrassing if revealed, such as the following:

  • Use of the EAP
  • Wage garnishment
  • Salary information and pay raises
  • Performance reviews
  • Medical issues
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Legal issues such as divorce, DUIs, etc.
  • Mental health issues
  • Personal/family problems

When considering the disclosure of this information, let your default position always be one of protection. Here are some do’s and don’ts to guide your decision making:

DO

  • Keep employees’ records in separate files to protect invasions of privacy.
  • Secure all sensitive paperwork whenever leaving your work area in order to prevent wandering eyes from viewing private information.
  • Make others aware when they are inappropriately disclosing personal information about someone.
  • Protect employees from identity theft. Lock up documents containing tax information, Social Security numbers, insurance information, etc.
  • Inventory your records yearly, and destroy documents that you no longer need with a shredder. Confirm retention policies with HR before destroying any documentation.

DON’T

  • Use personal information as a way to hold leverage over your employees.
  • Use what you know to bully, harass, or embarrass someone.
  • Disclose performance evaluation, disciplinary action, or salary information to an employee’s peers.
  • Gossip about private matters or  try to make an “impression” on others by disclosing intimate facts you are aware of.

As a manager, you’re entrusted with a great deal of personal information about your employees. Access to this information carries with it a tremendous responsibility, and the appropriate care of it is a matter that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Caution With Disclosure

Never provide private information to outside sources unless legally compelled to do so. Talk to your HR manager or legal advisor. Don’t act alone, without advice.

If asked to confirm an individual’s employment, first know what your organization wants you to do. Find out if a policy on references exists. Require a written request at the very least before releasing information. Keep your organization out of legal jeopardy by moving the issue or request up the chain of command to someone responsible for privacy policy matters.

Respecting Privacy

Your obligation to protect privacy begins upon first contact with a prospective employee and extends through and beyond job termination. Drug screening, background checks, and details and impressions of individual job interviews are all private matters that should not be discussed with anyone who does not have a need to know. This includes the background or details of decisions related to firings or other forced terminations.

A healthy employer/employee relationship is built on the foundation of trust. By protecting the personal concerns of your employees, you demonstrate that this trust is both well-placed and deserved – a condition that will encourage your employees to communicate with you openly and honestly about their affairs in the future.

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