Confidentiality remains a critical issue at workplaces. Employees and employers must handle all data in their workplaces with caution. Employees must be prudent with all confidential data in an organization. Hence, any third party should not have access to sensitive and confidential information of employees or an organization.
Employees must consult and obtain permission from their superiors in order to share such data with a third party. In addition, employees should also refrain from sharing their confidential and personal data with others at the workplace. Employees who ensure confidentiality of personal information promote professional attitude at the workplace.
Under legal requirements or workplace guidelines, employers should ensure privacy of all data, which employees provide to them during job application processes and specification information employees may provide later. Job application requires employees to supply sensitive personal data, financial details, credit information, education history, and past records of employment among others.
Laws or guidelines at workplaces do not allow employers to share such data with other outside parties. Employees must provide their consents to allow employers to share their data because it is a criminal offense to share personal information without prior authorization (Bible and McWhirter, 1990).
Violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
Employers and employees should recognize and uphold the total ban about discussing private and confidential issues regarding other employees. Data that relate to employees’ salary, benefits, and other related rewards may fall under the protected category (Decker, 1987). Some states require employees to disclose their salaries.
On the other hand, nondisclosure may violate the NLRA guidelines. According to NLRA, employees should “engage in ‘concerted activity’ and discuss their salaries and other terms of employees openly” (Decker, 1987). Hence, any workplace guidelines that prevent employees from engaging in such discussions may violate the NLRA. On this note, employers should develop exceptions for protected activities in order to avoid violation of the NLRA.
Organizations and several states recognize the right to normal privacy at workplaces. The right to privacy may be contained in codes and guidelines that guide the use of personal information at the workplace. Employers and employees have witnessed many civil claims due to violations of certain privacy policies.
Employers have the role of monitoring employees to allow their organizations to run effectively. However, in this process, they must not compromise employees’ rights to privacy.
For instance, firms may have surveillance cameras to minimize cases of theft from employees, but they cannot invade employees’ privacy by installing such cameras in washrooms. Any surveillance in the washroom violates the general right to privacy at the workplace. It is important for the employer to inform employees that they are under surveillance in specific areas of at the workplace.
Misuse of private information can lead to legal claims. This could also include situations where employers have authorized access to personal information without consents from an employee. Slander and libel may also constitute legal claims, particularly where employees or employers have provided personal information of others without their consents.
Claims could arise from violations of the general right to privacy or defamation. Hence, employers and employees must protect their personal information and avoid defamation and slander at workplaces because such violations have legal liability.
Employees present their medical information to employers. Such data are useful for assessing employees’ work suitability and medical claims. However, employers cannot share them with any other employee or an outsider without employees’ consents. The Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects the use of employees’ medical information by employers (Decker, 1987). Hence, a violation may constitute a legal claim.
Damages may also occur when employers misuse personal and sensitive information about employees’ political affiliation, associations, religious beliefs, associations, sexual orientation, criminal records, disabilities, and other beliefs. When employers infringe on these lawfully protected rights, they may attract liable civil damages. Employees have reasons to sue their employers for such damages. Cases of carelessness with guarded information may lead to loss of jobs, emotional distress, stigmatization, and general loss of privacy.
Realities and challenges to uphold those laws or guidelines on workplace confidentiality
One major challenge that prevents employers and employees from upholding workplace confidentiality is a lack of clearly written policies on confidentiality issues. For instance, many organizations do not clearly articulate their policies on gaining access to personal and private information, maintaining privacy of information, and controlling systems and processes that have employees’ private data.
In addition, employers also fail to clarify employees who may have authorization to gain access to certain information. Employers should consider all relevant ways of upholding confidentiality through different confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements that employees must sign.
Employers also have challenges of upholding workplace privacy because of the elusive nature of the workplace privacy. A lack of clear communication has contributed to these challenges. Moreover, privacy issues may overlap due to a lack of clear definition of what is confidential in an organization. These laws or guidelines may also change from time to time. Hence, employers should have updated versions of confidentiality laws based on relevant state laws.
Bible, J., and McWhirter, D. (1990). Privacy in the Workplace: A Guide for Human Resource Managers. Westport, CT: Quorum Books.
Decker, K. H. (1987). Employee privacy law and practice. New York: Wiley.