Employer Responsibility For Info Privacy?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about disclosing employee information:

What responsibility do employers/supervisors have to keep private information private? For example, if a co-worker becomes ill and is hospitalized, is it appropriate for a supervisor/employer to provide details of the illness to co-workers? Is it appropriate for employers to share an employee’s private address and private phone numbers to co-workers so that well wishes can be sent to an employee? If an employer/supervisor does provide private contact information to co-workers, and a person is later burglarized, stalked, harassed, etc. can the employer/supervisor be held responsible?

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

We provide information about workplace communication issues but are not experts about HR law. You may want to check with an attorney if you feel that private information was given out about you inappropriately. Giving a home address for a get-well card would not seem to be inappropriate to most reasonable people. Such information is probably on the internet anyway.

There are certainly laws about medical information being kept private, but even that can vary according to the size of the workplace and other requirements. And, while employers are not supposed to share details (he’s at stage three of that disease; she had a growth that weighed a pound; he is active for TB), they can usually say that someone had surgery, had a baby, passed out and was taken away in an ambulance and other general information. The individual situation is what makes the difference. And, many people want the information passed along to coworkers and would resent it if they didn’t get a card or calls. So, employers are sometimes caught in the middle.

If you have an HR section, talk to them or talk to your employer about your privacy concerns. Consider leaving a memo for your files that says you do not want private information to be shared. List the information you consider to be private.The only way an employer could be held liable for future crimes would be to show the he or she should have known that such a crime would happen. That is doubtful and would be almost impossible to prove.The bottom line is that it’s difficult to be completely private in today’s world. Most of us learn to compromise and take care about not sharing information with complete strangers while trusting or semi-trusting most others. Fortunately, that works most of the time for most people.Best wishes to you.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.