“Is it an invasion of privacy if incidents involving employees are reported company-wide, including employees’ names?”

Question: In my company we have certain incidents that have to get reported and spread within the other sectors of our company. It’s a large company so many people are hearing these reports. They include the employee’s name on the reports. Is it legal to do this, or is it an invasion of privacy?

Staten Island, New York

Answer: Your question is a really good one, as it prompts a general discussion of the notion of “privacy” at work that may be helpful to many.

In New York, and in most states, there is no general “right to privacy.” However, in New York and in many other states, specific laws do require that certain specific things about an employee must be kept confidential, such as (a) health (medical and mental) information, (b) information relating to disabilities, including alcohol or drug addictions, (c) financial and credit information, and (d) arrests that did not lead to convictions.

In some other states, there does exist a general “right to privacy” that may be statutory (a law passed by the state legislature) or from “common law” (which means a right that has developed over time from the decisions of judges.) In these states, the general rule is that it is illegal to disclose information about an employee that “the average person would not want disclosed to the public.” Of course, every case must be examined as to its very specific facts.

No matter what state an employee is in, the issue comes down to this: “What kind of “incident” are we speaking about, and what kind of “information” is revealed as part of reporting these “incidents?”

In New York, it would probably not be an invasion of any privacy right for an “incident” involving a customer complaint about poor service that incorporated an employee’s name. However, if the “incident” involved a report that an employee had been alleged to have the HIV virus, it most assuredly would be an invasion of that employee’s “privacy” and just as assuredly a violation of law to disclose that information.

Thanks for the question. It made me think, do some research, and hopefully helped others out, as well.

If other readers have similar questions about “privacy” at work, or stories to share, I’d love to receive them. Of course, don’t give us your name if that would violate your privacy!!

My best to you,
Al Sklover

P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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