“I wanted to stop by and tell you something, but I don’t want you to say anything.” Sound familiar? As an HR professional, it is sometimes hard to know who to tell and who not to tell. It can also be just as tricky to know how to properly safeguard information so that only those that need to know, do. So what’s actually considered confidential?
The answer? Much of it. Much of the information kept within HR should be confidential. Employee records must be maintained in such a way that only certain HR employees have access to employee data and information should be closely guarded through proper security measures. What does this mean? If records are electronic, access should be thoroughly safeguarded and if information is paper, it should be guarded via lock and key. Health information must also be maintained with a high degree of security and are generally to be stored separately from an employee’s file. An audit of employee files and safeguarding practices should help you gauge the strength of internal controls around employee information.
Other bits of information held by HR aren’t always as straightforward. If an employee needs to be out every week for a personal reason, those reasons shouldn’t be shared at the water cooler. Likewise issues or conflicts within the organization shouldn’t be shared either. If another employee doesn’t need to know, it is best to keep quiet protect the wishes of each employee.
There are also instances that an employee may prefer to remain confidential, but HR can’t contain information shared. For example, if that bit of information is against the law or if the employer could be held responsible for not acting on the information, human resources has a duty to act. If HR learns of fraud or harassment, or other issues that present harm to the organization or employee, HR must work to notify the proper individuals or work to remedy the situation via investigation.
If you are an HR leader and must share information, it is important to notify those involved and let them know the reasoning behind your duty to act on the information presented. Though few situations within HR are “textbook” HR issues, a strong HR leader will learn when to hold information confidential and act when needed.
Is the conversation you’re having right now about conflict at work? You might want to consider attending our “Crucial Conversations” workshop in Minneapolis, April 24-25.