Confidentiality in HR Processes
Human resources departments frequently have access to sensitive information about employees such as disability status, educational records, employment history and financial information. Keeping records and HR processes confidential doesn't just help your employees feel secure when they consult with HR; in many cases, companies are legally required to keep HR matters confidential. Publishing a written policy identifying which processes are confidential and which are not honors your employees' privacy and protects the company from litigation or fines.
Hiring an employee often means gathering significant quantities of information including resumes, references, skills and previous experience. While most of this information is not protected by confidentiality laws, keeping these records confidential -- and informing prospective employees of your confidentiality policies -- can make it more likely that they'll provide the information you request. Similarly, when firing or disciplining employees, if you don't keep the proceedings confidential you could harm employee morale. Moreover, revealing to other employees why an employee was fired could be cause for a defamation lawsuit if there is a dispute about the reason the employee was fired.
HR departments are often tasked with fielding complaints about employees and managers. When the complaint process protects the confidentiality of the complainer, employees are more likely to come forward with concerns, giving the business a chance to deal with problems. Keeping complaints confidential can also protect against retaliation. Some forms of retaliation -- such as firing an employee for filing a discrimination lawsuit -- are illegal.
It's generally wise for HR to keep employee information confidential unless given written permission to do otherwise. For example, an employee seeking family medical leave might not want people to know that she is pregnant, while an employee who's struggling with depression might need to take time off and will have to talk to HR about this decision. Ask employees to sign a copy of the confidentiality policy whenever they initiate any HR process.
HR sometimes has access to confidential records, including health insurance filings, educational records and doctor's notes. These records are confidential and should be kept in the employee's file but not disseminated to others. HR employees should not talk with staff about their confidential records in casual conversation and should never reveal this information either to co-workers or managers. Revealing private information can put employees in danger, harm their emotional well-being, interfere with workplace harmony or result in a lawsuit.