We each possess certain descriptors that add to the gestalt of who we are. At the workplace, these are clubbed together as ‘employee information’, captured during interviews, background checks, financial history, medical tests, career journeys, etc.

Employee information includes facts related to:

  • Personal information like marital status, sexual orientation, national ID numbers, dependents, parenting status, etc.
  • Career-related information like salaries, promotions, and reports of misconduct.
  • Background checks around work performance history, legal records, and disciplinary actions.
  • Health and medical information including disabilities, insurance policies, compensation packages, and medical test results.

All this data falls under the purview of ‘confidential workplace information’, which enterprises must protect by law. In fact, most countries have strict rules regarding actions to be taken or liability to employers in case of breaches or mishandling of such information (the Canadian example below explains this).

Within the boundaries of confidentiality

Not all personal information can be treated the same way. Employees can choose to disclose some information based on their discretion. For instance, some employees may need to excuse themselves from work at certain times for daily prayer, which requires disclosing religious information to one’s manager and HR department. Whereas it might be mandatory to share other sensitive information – such as bank account numbers and ID data. Though sharing such data on the part of employees, and collecting and handling such data on the part of employers, calls for abundant precaution due to dangers of fraud and theft.

However, sometimes, there are reasons why employees prefer not to disclose personal information. For one, they may prefer to keep things private. Two, some personal information can be wielded in a discriminatory manner. Reports reveal that single and divorced women face discrimination, either during the hiring process or when delegated tasks. Thirdly, some private information, such as medical test results, might not directly impact the job role or performance, and therefore not be pertinent at the workplace.

Say, a candidate is disabled but applies for the role of an accountant. During interviews, employers cannot ask about the history of disability. They can, however, request for a medical examination. Only if the findings indicate that the candidate is incapable of performing the job required (i.e., his accounting skills, not mobility, are compromised) can follow-up decisions be made. Such norms are enforced to ensure equal opportunity in the hiring process.

So, should employee information be disclosed or kept confidential?

This often depends on the information and the situation. In some countries (like in the USA and Canada), the issue of disclosure is strictly regulated. For instance, healthcare providers cannot share a member’s medical information with employers that ask for it, without the explicit consent of the employee. In Canada, in 2016, an employee won a case filed against an employer for sharing sensitive medical information with an external recruiting company. On the other hand, in countries like India, there exists a loose framework of privacy laws based on which organizations may develop their internal privacy policies.

Overall, employee rights, when it comes to disclosing personal details, need only be relaxed when it impacts the job they perform or when they need any sort of accommodation by the company. In other situations, where personal details can impact professional relationships, employees can choose to disclose the necessary information at the right time. For more on handling such disclosure gracefully, check out our previous post on the topic.

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