Steps to ensure Employee Confidentiality in the Workplace

Respecting and maintaining employee confidentiality reflects the inherent values of management. So what exactly does ensuring employee confidentiality mean?

What is confidentiality?

Confidentiality refers to the state of keeping something private. In this case it is any information pertaining to an employee. This can include confidential personal information such as biographical information (date of birth, ID number, address, state of health, etc.). But it also includes assessments or performance reviews, development plans, etc.

One of the most contentious points is always salary information. As much as this is meant to be strictly confidential, employees find out what their colleagues earn. This leads to untold dissatisfaction and unhappiness in the workplace. Clearly this highlights that somewhere employee confidentiality is being breached.

Confidentiality of information

Human Resources usually have a policy on ethics. This includes the company’s approach to employee confidentiality. The policy stipulates what information is confidential and how best it needs to be taken care of.

Adhering to the policy and procedures is another story. Usually access to an employee’s information on-line is password protected. Only select people have access. Whoever has access needs to be very mindful that employee information is confidential.

I once worked for a sales manager who told me I need to learn to read upside down and move to where I could see what was on someone’s screen. In this way he felt he was able to gain information on his client that he could use in his marketing! This happens more often than we realise.

So when people come to your desk be very aware of what is on your screen. Close it or minimise the information. If you are interrupted or quickly need to go somewhere, exit the document or screen.

Often we have confidential documents lying on our desk as we work on them. Once again be careful where you place the document. Note how easily others can read them. Be aware of the “upside down” readers!  Do you perhaps need to work on these documents early in the morning? Or late afternoon when the office may be quieter? Or do you need to rearrange your work space to give you more privacy?

Filing of information is another area to be conscious of regarding employee confidentiality.  There are always hard copies of employee information.  Where is the information stored? Who can access this information? In essence the line manager in charge would typically keep records. Unless there is an HR manager who stores all the hard copy information centrally.

So many offices are open plan these days. Be aware of how effectively private information is kept. Is the cabinet always locked? It sounds so obvious and yet it is in a few minutes that someone can “accidentally” access confidential information.


Hold any conversations concerning employees behind closed doors and with the relevant people. A manager typically discusses the performance or progress of employees with the HR manager. Do this where there is no chance of the conversation being overheard. Some offices are not particularly sound proof.

Mark is the MD of an SME. He and the HR manager take a walk to a convenience store to buy lunch. They discuss the career path of one of the employees. It is too late when they realise one of the junior employees is walking quite close behind them. They could have taken care to have this kind of conversation back at the office in private.

Despite the best policies and procedures on employee confidentiality, private information still leaks out. With an increase in litigation, business needs to make the confidentiality of employee information a priority.

It is crucial to treat employee information as private. If we fail to do so, employees see this as a betrayal of trust. This results in them sharing less. Or being less committed to the company. Some employees withdraw, whereas others may go out of their way to make life difficult for management. We are living in times where employees easily approach external bodies to help them take legal action.

So it is important to do what you can to keep employee information confidential. Through business mentoring you can identify areas of vulnerability that need to be tightened up in your company.

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Posted in Business Owner.