Understanding Value of Confidentiality in the Workplace

Not only is confidentiality in the workplace associated with ethics and company policy, but also government requirements.  Today, confidentiality among employees is serious business, used to protect employees and employers but also company information.  After all, companies maintain all types of proprietary data onsite such as financials, employee personal information (home address, social security number, salary, etc), business contracts, and much more.

Typically, when a person is hired on by a company, the human resources department would require orientation so everyone understands the importance of confidentiality in the workplace, as well as consequences if this rule is violated.  People in human resources have a very specific job to do since the Privacy Act of 1988 was enacted.  Within this act are specific principles known as the National Privacy Principles that must be followed exact.  These principles include:

  • Personal Information – Whether factual or not, any information or opinion that becomes a part of the company’s database, regardless of how the information is maintained, confidentiality in the workplace is very touch on what can and cannot be done with this type of information.
  • Sensitive Information – Another part of confidentiality in the workplace has to do with sensitive information, which could be employee political associations, health status, religious beliefs, financial standing, disability, trade/professional association, trade union membership, criminal record, sexual orientation, race, or philosophical beliefs.

While employee and sensitive information are among the two areas that need to be monitored and maintained to ensure confidentiality in workplace, other aspect of the business are protected.  For instance, management strategies, company policies, marketing and advertising information, recruitment, and so on are all included, whether in actual hard documentation or maintained electronically.

To maintain confidentiality in the workplace, the method used for collecting and storing personal and sensitive information by the HR department is imperative.  Legally, HR must inform employees that this type of information is being gathered and that it will be maintained.  HR also has the responsibility to keep all information current and complete.  However, to ensure the information is protected from unauthorized access, misuse, loss, disclosure, or notification, reasonable steps must be followed.

Not only does confidentiality in the workplace have to do with the way information was collected and handled on a daily basis, but also on storage.  This means HR is required to keep documentation in a restricted and locked area that only authorized personnel would have access to so only certain people would be able to get into files.  Files are maintained for a specific amount of time according to state law, which could be up to 75 years.

Finally, while confidentiality in the workplace involves the way in which employee records are handled and maintained, it also involves employees being taught from day one what conversations are allowed so everyone within the organization is fully protected.  This creates a friendly working environment that people enjoy, which equates to dedication and higher production.  Keeping employee information safe is not just the law but also the way to run a highly profitable business.