“I’m retiring; can I ask my boss to keep that confidential?”

Question: Can I request confidentiality from my boss as I just want to leave on a certain date and not return. I don’t like parties or to discuss my retirement. I have worked here for 35 years and am a private person. Also, would my company have to pay me for unused vacation days?      

Lancaster, Ohio 

Answer: Dear Dennis: While the law does not give you a right to confidentiality about retirement plans, yes, you can request confidentiality about your retirement. Here are just a few thoughts that might be helpful:    

1. Employers are required by law to hold certain employee information in confidence, but only on a very few topics. There are both federal and state laws that require certain information about employees be held in confidence. While state laws vary from state to state, most states do not require employers to hold employee-related information in confidence, with just a few exceptions. I have never heard of any right to confidentiality about retirement plans, and my legal research for this answer has not found any, either.   

2. Required confidentiality about employee information by federal law is mostly limited to medical information. The federal law entitled “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” (called “HIPAA” for short) requires that employer-sponsored health care plans to maintain employee medical information confidential.  

Another federal law, the Genetic Information Non-Disclosure Act (called “GINA” for short) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information about employees or prospective employees. 

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act contains stringent limits on how widely employers can share credit-related information they acquire in employee background checks. 

3. Some states are passing laws giving employees a limited degree of privacy as to their social networking information. In 2012, Maryland became the first state to prohibit employers from demanding employees’ passwords to Facebook and other social networking websites from job applicants and employees. The legislatures of Illinois, Ohio, Delaware, Michigan, New York, California and Washington state are considering similar measures.  

4. It is possible that your employer has its own policy – and maybe even a procedure – about confidentiality of other employee information; that is the place to start. Employers institute their own policies as guidelines for company behavior. Company policies are sort of the “rules of the workplace” by which employees, supervisors and managers must conduct themselves at work. Some companies have both (a) policies about confidentiality of employee information, and (b) procedures to request confidentiality or report breaches of confidentiality. 

Your concern is entirely reasonable, but you sure don’t want to break any rules when you make your request, or miss any deadlines. You should first find out from your employer’s Human Resources Department if any employee-information policies are in effect, and if there are any procedures by which you can, should or must make your request.   

5. Your idea of requesting confidentiality directly to your boss about your upcoming retirement is entirely reasonable and understandable, but may not be entirely practical in light of your employer’s need to transition duties, shifts, and the like. I very much like your idea of requesting confidentiality about your upcoming retirement. Respectful requests for reasonable things at work are a consistent theme of this blogsite. After 35 years, you sure do deserve to be granted such a reasonable request. 

That said, I think you should anticipate hearing things like this: “Dennis, we have to make arrangements regarding transitioning your duties, reassigning your desk, covering your shifts, and even filling out your retirement paperwork, so I don’t think confidentiality about why it is you are leaving is possible. In fact, it might lead to people speculating about your health, your performance or even your conduct.” 

I believe you should, yourself, be prepared with entirely reasonable responses, like: “I understand that, and anticipated that, but surely you can (a) do your very best to (b) tell only those who really must know, (c) tell those people who must know as late as is reasonably possible, (d) request that each person keep the news of my retirement as confidentially as possible, and (e) let us together make a plan and find ways for me to help you do just that.” 

In “navigating” your way in, around and through situations in the workplace, it is always wise to pretend you are the “other person,” and anticipate his or her perspective, concerns and interests.

With this in mind, you are then much more capable – and can be prepared – to work “around” those issues that can be worked around, all to better navigate to the goal you seek. 

6. As to your question about accrued but unused vacation, the answer is “It depends.” Dennis, I am not admitted as an attorney in Ohio, but to answer your question I have done some internet research on the law in Ohio on this point. It seems that Ohio law takes a two-step approach: First, if your employer does not have a clear, written policy that says, in effect, “Employees forfeit their accrued but unused vacation days,” then you are entitled to have them paid to you when you leave. But if your employer does have a clear, written policy that says they are forfeited, and under what circumstances, commonly to be found in policy manual, employee handbook, or hiring letter, then you do not get paid for them when you leave. 

For this you clearly have to consult with Human  Resources. 

I hope this has been helpful to you, and that you are successful in getting the confidentiality and accrued but unused vacation days. Congratulations to you, and enjoy your retirement!!   

My Best,
Al Sklover 

P.S.: Don’t forget: we offer Model Letters, Memos, Checklists and Form Agreements for almost every workplace issue, concern and problem that requires your smart navigating and negotiating. They show you “What to Say, How to Say It.™” Want to see our Entire List? Just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

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