Anyone who works in your organization has to hand over a lot of pretty sensitive, private information: Their social
security numbers, their health information, their job history. They’re trusting that whoever has access to that information is going to handle it respectfully, to protect it and only use it for necessary business purposes. The trouble is, people are people. They get mad, they form resentments, they might gossip or be judgmental, and they sometimes are accidentally indiscreet. So the question is, how safe should your employees feel about your having that information?
A case came up recently in which an employee was injured, took several months of workman’s comp, then sued the company. The HR employee who took the injury report and monitored the whole process was mad that the employee had sued her company and posted to her Facebook how unfair it was that one employee who had a heart bypass was back at work in a month while the other guy had a shoulder injury and was out for nearly a year and was now suing the company. Whammo, the guy sued again, this time because his chances for work were materially damaged by the FB post of the company’s HR person. And he won.
In another case, a crazy love triangle between a pharmacist, her husband and a customer of the Walgreen’s pharmacy led to a $1.44 million award to the customer who proved that the pharmacist shared her personal psychiatric history with third parties who used the information to harass her.
Any time someone has access to private information, there’s a risk that they’ll let something slip. And yet, you can’t avoid some people in your organization having access to that information. So how can you protect employees? There are a lot of measures, actually.
• Check for Emotional Maturity: There are lots of screenings you can do but the most important is to check for emotional maturity. This has nothing to do with age. I’ve met emotionally mature 21-year-olds and I’ve met 50-year-olds I wouldn’t trust with any information.
• Create Strong Privacy Policies: Put in place policies regarding sharing employee information in the office, on social media or even with third parties outside the company. What’s okay to share, and what isn’t? Make sure employees—in particular managers—know what your policies are and what the consequences will be if they’re not followed.
• Train Employees: This is one of my favorite themes, of course, but think about it. A lot of companies have employees watch a training movie and then sign a piece of paper that says they’ve trained on employee privacy rights. This is completely inadequate. You need to train them in a way that ensures they understand the responsibility that comes with having that information and what it will cost them, the employee and the company if they fail to handle it properly.
• Don’t Make So Many Copies: Some companies give employee information to the hiring manager, HR, payroll, and maybe one or two other departments. Really? Everybody doesn’t need immediate access to all that information. Limit the amount of information each person has to employee information to “need to know.”
• Foster a Culture of Discretion: Okay, a lot of companies want a family atmosphere. They want people to form relationships and get to know each other because it makes work more fun and often bonds employees to the company so there’s less turnover. But just like in any group—family, friends—weird problems can arise. So it’s important to create an atmosphere that fosters teamwork without encouraging everybody to be all up in everybody else’s personal business. All it takes is one falling out….
• Have an Emergency Plan: Know what you’re going to do if information does get out. How will you communicate that to employees? What will you do to mitigate the damage?
One of the best ways to foster a good relationship and culture in your company is to make sure employees feel like you have their backs. And protecting their private information is a really strong message that you do. If you want more information or strategies about how to protect your company and your people, we can help.
We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.