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Workplace Privacy and Confidentiality

There is no single federal law regulating privacy issues for private employers on a broad basis; however, there are various federal laws that regulate specific aspects of an employee’s privacy that arise during the course of employment.  There are also state and common law (court-created law) considerations that impact workplace privacy.

As a general rule of thumb, for an employer to try and avoid invasion of privacy complaints by employees they should ensure that:

  • Any information gathered during the employment relationship serves a businesses’ “need to know”,
  • The information is gathered by the least intrusive method,
  • The information is maintained in a confidential manner designed to prevent unauthorized access,  and
  • That information is not used “unfairly” by the employer or a third party.

When dealing with any of the following areas, be aware that there are ramifications with regard to an employee’s privacy:

  • Personnel Records/Files (see Sample Human Resource Records Policy)
  • Medical Information
  • Credit and Financial Information
  • Education Information
  • Wire, Oral and Electronic Communications
  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse diagnosis, treatment or other information
  • Alcohol and Drug testing
  • Personal History Questionnaires
  • Surveillance and Investigations
  • Using an employee’s name and/or likeness without their written permission
  • Employment Application
  • Responding to requests for employee information by third parties
  • Searches (body, personal property, or company property)
  • Anti-Trust Law Compliance
  • Disclosure of Union Activity
  • Off-duty Activity or Behavior (i.e. Smoking)
  • Business Ethics (see Sample Business Ethics And Conduct Policy)
  • Confidential Information Leaks (see Sample Confidential Information Policy)

Category:Legal Considerations

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