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Dilemma Between Data Privacy Requirement and Employee Expectations on Sharing Information

For decades corporations have struggled to find the right balance between protecting employee information from internal and external inquiries and meeting employee expectations relating to sharing information and building work communities. 

Irony a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result. 

As the great debate, legislative activities and employee expectations continue around the subject of data privacy, I thought I would revisit the current situation and pose some thoughts around the future and where it's headed.  For decades corporations have struggled to find the right balance when it comes to protecting employee information from internal and external inquiries, yet balance this against meeting employee expectations as it relates to sharing information, building work communities - while avoiding legal pitfalls.  It’s complicated, sensitive and can lead to very positive outcomes or total catastrophe. 

Employees may have expectations (while sometimes subjective) of privacy due to gender detail concerns, information segregation to support employee resource groupsetc. but an employer’s policies may eliminate any objective expectation of privacy, and some data might simply not be considered private. Laws related to employee privacy expectations have failed to keep pace with technology available to employers, and privacy claims must be evaluated carefully on a case-by-case basis within the workplace to protect all parties involved. 

The legislative environment is changing too. On Future Workplace Policy Council meeting where we discussed how the California Consumer Privacy Act and Europe’s laws impact employees, job applicants, and contractorsDaniel Chasen, Vice President Workplace Policy at HRPA, stated, In certain cases employers could find themselves between a rock and a hard place as they seek to balance business interests and respond to evolving employee expectations while dealing with new legal requirements”.  This development makes future HR privacy developments certain and forces companies to “decipher the code”, its implications and respond to the new compliance requirements. 

In the future we will be tested on how much information we are willing to share, to what detail and with whom.   I think we all agree that many things will be legislated with support from organized labor and special interest groups, and the balance will come from employee resource groups and individual employees.  As you know the trend, and in some cases, requirement to post salary pay bands and ranges is applauded and yet they want more granular information to essentially “size themselves up” against others without objective data.  Employees want to know what others are being paid sitting right next to them, yet they are also asking for more privacy – Irony?  To complicate matters, employees are freely sharing salary information and special work arrangements on social media and chat groups.  Is this healthy, or simply oversharing without perspective and a view of the consequences?   

Regardless of the outcome, the dilemma continues for employers – continue with thoughtful transparency and communication plans, or will it just add to the complexity and myriad of employee relations issues? All the more reason to beef up your employee relations staff. 

Published on: November 30, 2022

Authors: James E. Jones

Topics: Global

James E. Jones

Senior Advisor, HR Policy Global, HR Policy Association

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