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Employee Confidentiality

What are the guidelines for releasing employee information over the phone/without written information? We had a situation occur when someone posing as an officer from the Civil Processing Court sought information on an employee. The person was, in fact, a former spouse seeking information. There are no written policies at the company regarding release of information.

Thank you for your insight.

You should definitely create a written policy for employees to follow under these circumstances. In fact, all employers should have such a policy in place, and have trained staff members on it. Depending upon the state you are in, your employee may have violated the law. In Texas, for example, a privacy law prohibits the employer from sharing the employees social security number with anyone outside the company.

The best practice in Human Resources is not to release any information on employees without either a) the employees written authorization or b) a subpeona. The same restrictions apply to information on previous employees.

When someone calls to check a reference on a current or former employee, you should require that they fax you a form, signed by the employee, authorizing the release of the information. Almost every job application includes such a form. Staff members should be trained to never release information on current or former employees over the phone without written authorization.

Some employers will release information on current or former employees to police officers who are investigating a crime. However, you should have that conversation in person if at all possible, and carefully check the credentials of the law enforcement personnel. The decision whether or not to cooperate in such an investigation should be made by the CEO or Human Resources Director, not a staff member. Other companies would not release any information without a subpeona, and that is probably the safest legal ground.

Posing as a police officer is a very serious crime, and you should probably report it to the local police.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, January 25th, 2009 at 12:05 pm and is filed under
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106 Responses to “Employee Confidentiality”

  1. tracey Says:

    What are the laws in Texas regarding posting your personal information for all of your collegues to see. I was out sick one day and returned to work the next day. I was approached by several co workers about my being out. One in particular said,” why don’t you take another day off? You have two days left don’t you?” I said, I don’t know how much time I have left, trying to avoid telling my personal information. She said, well, I know exactly how much time you have left because they used you as an example yesterday and put your information up on the over head for us to see. We now have a new system in place and have to enter our own time in the computer and you have two days left.

    I was humiliated, felt literally violated and embarrassed. My entire group of about 100 co workers saw my personal time left and what I took off for every time I was absent. Then this co worker continued to harrass me throughout the day regarding this issue.

    What are the laws?

  2. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Tracey! This was very poor judgement on the part of one or more managers, but it probably wasn’t illegal. There is no guarantee of confidentiality about days off or sick days under the law in Texas, or most other states. Almost the only confidentialy law in Texas prohibits employers from sharing your social security number with anyone outside the company. (If your social security number was displayed on the screen, you may have a case.)
    The employer should have invented a fictitious employee to demonstrate the new system.
    Some companies have rules about employee confidentiality. If your employer does, you can complain to HR on those grounds. (You should, of course, make your feelings known anyway.) You also can and should ask HR to tell your coworker to quit discussing your personal issues.
    If the employer is self-insured, and the info displayed or discussed included a diagnosis or other private health information, then that would be a violation of HIPAA. But if only your time off used and available was discussed, that is not protected information. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  3. Monica Says:

    I have a quick question. I was recently fired, however before my employers decided to tell me, they told my co-workers. I was embarrassed to find out that I was fired from a co-worker and not my boss. That information is no one else’s business except for me and my boss. Is there anything I can do? Also, what should I do if I was fired but not given a legitimate reason?

  4. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Monica! You have a legitimate complaint. Well-managed companies do not operate in this way. They address the problem directly with the employee, rather than discussing it with the coworkers first. However, what the employer has done is not illegal, and there is probably nothing you can do. In most states, under employment at will, an employer can terminate any employee at any time, with or without a reason. So there is probably no recourse here, unless you think that there was illegal discrimination involved. HTH,and thanks for reading the blogs!~Caitlin

  5. Monica Says:

    Caitlin, thanks so much for your response!
    My question is now, is it legal what they did…telling my co-worker I was fired before telling me? Doesn’t violate confidentiality?

  6. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Monica! the employer’s action does violate employee confidentiality…but there is no law (in most cases) that requires employers to keep information about employment confidential. So what the employer did is lawful.
    Employers are required to keep employee medical information confidential in some cases…but it doesn’t sound like medical information was involved. HTH, adn thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  7. Sugarbear Says:

    My Human Resource Manager sent a OIG investigation case information to me over the internet, it contain names, agents name, my names, inmates names etc. It was not a good thing, he sent this information to my home computer. Such informaion is suppose to be view in person. he intentionally did this on purpose for a mean to embarrass me. now the entire world has a copy of an on-going investigation. This is not fair. This is not the first time they have done someone like this, the last time they did this, it was intercepted and placed on Hotmail.

  8. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Sugarbear! Many organizations including law enforcement routinely use email as the primary form of communication. If you believe that a company policy has been broken, you should bring this up to the person responsible. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  9. Victor Says:

    Is it a legal violation (n the state of Nevada) of employee confidentiality/HIPPA/etc. for a private employer to list that a staff member is “on leave” on a public organizational chart? No further details (such as FMLA, disability or personal leave) are listed…just name/position/and “on leave.”

  10. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Victor! No, this is not a violaiton of any law. Coworkers have a legitimate need to know that an employee is not in the office. As long as no details regarding the employees medical condition are furnished, this is not a violation. It would even be acceptable for the employer to note that the employee was on FMLA for an extended period. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  11. Kim Wilson Says:

    Is it legal for a manager to tell a coworker/friend of employee that your fired befor telling the employee they are fired?

  12. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Kim! This is legal, but it is probably poor management. Unfortunately, there is no law that protects employee confidentiality on topics other than private health information.
    Whenever possible, the supervisor should inform the employee directly, in person, that he or she has been terminated. If that is not practical, it can be done by letter, phone, voice mail, or email. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  13. Mark Says:


    A co-worker of mine noticed that lately I was really stressed in the office and took it upon herself to send an email to our manager with a stress class and suggested it would be good for me.

    This is fine but the problem is that my manager then told an another employee “non management” about this who works in another department which is one of my managers friends.

    I then found out about this situation over drinks with a few co-workers as the whole office knew about the email except for me because of my manager.

    Is there any recourse?


  14. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Mark! Unfortunately, probably not. Your coworker was probably out of line. Your manager definitely showed poor judgement and a lack of discreation. The manager’s friend is a gossip. Unfortunately, none of that is illegal.
    If your employer has an HR department, you could certainly file a complaint with them over the way your manager handled the situation. But we don’t have great hopes that they will discipline her.
    Our suggestion would be to take the stress class, be as professional and calm as possible at work — and look for a job at a better-managed company. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  15. lisa Says:

    Hi i was recently under a disciplinary action and found that the entire case was on the police system for everyone to see this included details like my home address and dichsrge medical status what law if any has been breached?

  16. Caitlin Says:

    Hi lisa! It’s hard to tell without more details. This was a mistake on the employer’s part, but it probably did not violate any laws. HIPAA only applies to employers when they are discussing health insurance benefits. ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, requires employers to keep any personal medical information regarding a disability confidential. But normally, the discharge medical status is not regarded as personal medical information. HTH, and thanks for reading the blog!~ Caitlin

  17. Laura Says:

    Is it legal for an employer to tell employee’s that another employee is in re-hab for alcohol abuse?

  18. Shannen Says:

    I have a unique situation(I hope). For more than 3yrs I was harassed by my entire department(maybe difficult to believe, but true). They even went so far as to actually make up a story like I tried to fight another employee, threatening messages because I had a passage from the Bible in my signature, my boss conducted my review with the door open, I could go on and on. The abuse became so bad, my health started to be affected in a very bad way. (before anyone asks, YES I complained to HR we have a harassment hotline and I filed several complaints, but to no avail. The harassment only became worse)I’ve been off since April 2. To make a long story short and even shorter, last week, an employee with the company informed me of my employment status, which was terminated. Now, I’m not upset about being terminated. You’d have to have walked in my shoes for over 3yrs to know what I went through at that place. I couldn’t believe anyone could be subjected to such hostility to the 100th degree.
    Back to my point, the employee told me I was terminated. HR NEVER (that’s correct) NEVER notified me. I have received nothing from HR. I did receive COBRA papers and this termination occurred over 2wks ago and I was NEVER notified by HR. I know there has to be some sort of legal issues with this as well as ethical issues, isn’t it? I’m just truly at a loss; as I’ve never heard of anything like this before. After everything I’ve been through at that job(and I haven’t scratched the surface (not a small bit) of the abuse I endured there)it’s astonishing as well as upsetting that they would feel as though they can treat me this way!
    Does anyone have any advice on this?

  19. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Shannen! Okay, a couple of things occur to us about this situation.
    First, discrimination based on religion is illegal under federal law. So if your employer and coworkers were picking on your because you were Christian, you should file a discrimination claim with the EEOC at You can do so, even though you are no longer employed there.
    Note that “everyone is being mean to me” is not a complaint of illegal discrimination. But “everyone is being mean to me because of my religion” is a complaint of illegal discrimination.
    However, be aware that proselytizing at work is not a protected activity. It would be inappropriate for another employee to try to convert you to their Jewish, Muslim or agnostic beliefs at work…just as it was inappropriate for you to try to convert them to Christianity. And yes, having a Bible verse in the signature line of your work email counts as proselytizing. Frankly, your supervisor should have put a stop to that long ago.
    There is no law or even best practice that HR be involved in every termination. It is perfectly acceptable for a supervisor to inform an employee that they have been terminated. Apparently, HR believed that the employee who informed you of your termination filled that role.
    Employees also have a responsiblity for staying in touch with the employer during any absence. If you genuinely believed that the “coworker” did not have the authority to fire you, you should have reported to work on your next scheduled shift, or phoned HR (or your manager) to see what was up.
    The fact that you have received COBRA papers reinforces the fact that you have been terminated.
    There is really nothing illegal or unethical about terminating an employee who has missed too much work. And that is an entirely separate issue from discrimination based on religion. (If you were entitled to FMLA, that is a different topic.)
    Moving forward, you might want to apply for jobs at Christian organizations. The other option would be to practice your faith on your own time, rather than at work. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  20. Shannen Says:

    Hi Caitlin, I really did not want to get into all of the details of everything they did to me. It is not enough space and trust me you don’t have the time. I filed harassment complaints against them and HR investigated they continued the harassment I was written up AFTER I complained HR eventually told me to apologize to them. And, that’s the SHORT version. But, onto your comments, 1. At our company HR is involved in EVERY termination unless someone is fighting or it needs to be immediate. 2. I was on LOA due to Stress related to the job because of the hostile work environment I was subjected to EVERY DAY for 3 yrs. 3. In our office EVERYONE has something in their signature it may not be appropriate but they allow it. 4. A Bible verse I can’t see how that could be threatening to one employee.(?) And, it only started being threatening AFTER I had filed harassment complaints on them. I’m not understanding the relation of the Bible verse with trying to convert them. People have Bibles on their desks, The Daily Bread, They play spiritual music, discuss Jesus and GOD ALL DAY every day there’s some mention of GOD in the office. 5. I did not say it was s supervisor. If it was a supervisor I wouldn’t be posting here(well maybe due to the abuse I suffered from them). I am aware that a supervisor has that authority. It was a co-worker, a peer and employee as I was; nothing more. Maybe you’re not understanding and from your comments I don’t think you do. I wasn’t at work when this occurred. They told me while I was on medical leave it was apart of gossip so to speak. Please don’t tell me HR did not have a LEGAL and if not LEGAL, ETHICAL duty to inform me themselves. The did not do this, this is the point. My problems at this job does not stem from anything I’ve done to them or not being able to perform my duties. The harassment, hostility and just completely creating lies about me were done for reasons I cannot explain. That’s a situation I will speak with an attorney about, for now, I was just posting my particular situation regarding a peer telling me I was not longer with the company. I am/was on medical leave and I am aware they can terminate you because you exceed 12 weeks of leave obviously even if it is due to medical reason under a doctor’s care. My issue is HR never contacted me to inform me of this. A co-worker did, excuse me someone who is not a supervisor.

    You have a nice day!

  21. Caitlin Says:

    Hi again Shannen! It sounds like this was a very difficult situation, and it is probably good that you are out of it.
    Filing a complaint with HR is not the same as filing a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. You can certainly see a lawyer. It is very likely that the first thing he will suggest is that you file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC.
    Just to clarify, it is not normal for people to have Bibles or other religious books on their desks in the workplace. The fact that they did in this workplace makes it less likely that their treatment of you was based on your religion — not more likely. It may have been unprofessional of HR not to contact you to let you know you had been terminated. But it’s not illegal. Best of luck to you with this!~ Caitlin

  22. Shannen Says:

    HiCaitlin, thank you for responding. Yes, it was a horrible ordeal. I cannot put it into words. I agree. It is a good thing I am out of it. My health suffered horribly. The thing with the way they handled this upsets me because they don’t do this with anyone else. HR is always involved, but with me, a co-worker told me –no one in management. They called me several times; never mentioned it. From what you’re saying, they can almost do anything to you and there’s no consequence. It just make me feel even less hopeful in them taking responsible for their actions or lack thereof.

    Thanks again for your comments..

  23. b.boi Says:

    If you tell a manager that you are HIV+ in confidence that he will not repeat it than you find out that he does repeat the information to a co-worker who than repeated the information to someone else… what can be done? I told HR and not much has seemed to happen except phones calls to my co workers asking if they heard anything

  24. julie Says:

    Hi, 3months ago I came back to work off maternity leave. Before leaving my manager told me i would have my shifts back upon returning. Unfortunitly, 2 shifts were not because 2 other employees told me they wanted them so they were keeping them. When I ask my manager he had not much to say when I ask him why, and why they told me,not management.To make things worse, the girl who took my shift his bullied me the past 2 years and I have went to management to document. They all know how she is but are scared of her because she is very verbal when things dont go her way. Any suggestions on getting my shift back? And should I go to HR about her attitude?

  25. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Julie! If you were on FMLA, the employer must give you the shifts back. Yes, go to HR, but limit your discussion to objective behavior, not “attitude.” Thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  26. wondering Says:

    just wondering- recently having issues with a coworker. Hes read my work email account, tried to lie about it and caught in other lies, wont do their job, rather sits at desk playing around on the internet all day, takes naps at work, admits drug use freely. milks the clock, and falsifies time card and is rude at every possible opportunity. Supervisor is aware of all this because I (and a few other coworkers)sat down seperately with supervisor to discuss how we can fix the situation. Supervisor apparently had a discussion with said employee and told that person every detail of what was was said, who said it and when. Now expecting retaliation from said employee because that has been the history from this person. whenever they feel slighted the feel they need to make someone pay for it. Is the Supervisor in the wrong here or should I have just kept my mouth shut?

  27. Caitlin Says:

    Hi wondering! As painful as it may be, it is not your job to monitor your coworkers performance. It is your job to focus on your own work. As long as the supervisor is aware of the situation, then he or she gets to decide how to handle it. There is no law that employee complaints about a coworker must be kept confidential. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  28. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Laura! No, probably not. Acoholism is a disability under ADA, and that law requires that an employer keep all medical information private. Depending upon the discussion, this information may also be included under HIPAA. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Caitlin

  29. Michelle Says:

    My employer has set goals for my sales team to achieve and then announced today we are going to be forced to track our performance of these goals in system that everyone in the company can access to. We are the only individuals in the company that are being forced to do this (out of 10/100 employees). This feels like a breech of confidentiality and allows everyone to see my work performance. Granted I really have nothing to hide and am one of the highest performers in the group, but this feels illegal. Is it?

  30. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Michelle! No, this is not illegal. An employer can legally share information about an employee, as long as it is not the employees private medical records.

    There is no law that requires work performance to be confidential. Many, many sales departments have the policy of publically posting sales stats, including quotas and performance. It is also common for employers to use contact management software like Goldmine, that permits everyone to see an employees activity. This is completely legal. If female salespeople were forced to use Goldmine while male salespeople were not, that would be illegal. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  31. Greg Medeiros Says:

    I work an organization where the supervisor is also the human resources mgr. I have asked her to not divulge employee information to me, such as why certain employees were written up, quit and fired; call a prospective employer and inform them of their dismissal; most arguments between herself and board members, boss. Aside from specific HIPA laws, at what point does divulging human resources (present and past employee) information become a violation?

  32. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Greg! There are very few laws that protect employee confidentiality, except HIPAA and ADA, which protect medical information only. (Several states protect the employees social security number, but not other info.)
    If the supervisor/HR person is giving negative references, that is a liability issue. Many former employees have successfully sued for this, because it makes it impossible for them to earn a living.
    However, sharing other information may be unprofessional, it may be a violation of company policy, but it is not illegal. And unfortunately, if this person is your supervisor, it really is not your place to correct her. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  33. Frankie Says:

    I wittnessed recently a medical emergency at my workplace, which involved my co-worker.
    Soon after this incidence we were told by our Supervisor not to discuss the issue among others(employees), or call the co-worker asking, how he is etc, as there are “laws”, which prohibit sharing of medical information and that one might get into trouble by doing this. What are the laws that our management was referring to that prohibit talking about, what happened among employees. Thanks.

  34. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Frankie! The employer is being reasonable and protecting the employees privacy. Yes, the ADA requires that an employer keep all medical information on an employee private. This prevents employees from gossiping about a coworkers medical condition. Think how embarassed you would be if the entire office knew you suffered from a prostate condition that caused impotence.

    HIPAA also prevents an employer from discussing medical information, but does not usually apply to coworkers. Your employer is being very cautious, and we find that to be commendable. Why would you feel the need to gossip about this persons medical condition? HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  35. Payton Says:

    I am an external consultant working for a client. Recently, a manager who is mainly responsible for field nursing staff has been discussing and criticizing the performance of a in-house administrative employee who is not on her team. Said manager has been noted several times for discussing the employees work performance in public setting where other employees can hear. What is the employers liability towards confidentiality for the employee and what laws is the manager violating if any?

  36. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Payton! This is primarily a matter of company policy rather than employment law. There is no law that makes the employees work performance confidential information. It is unprofessional for the supervisor or manager to air this information in public, but it does not violate any employment law.

    Many companies have the policy that personnel matters are not discussed in public, or even with coworkers unless they have a need to know. However, there is no law that an employer must have such a policy, or enforce such a policy.

    Employers are prohibited from sharing an employees private medical information with outsiders. Some states also have laws that prohibit sharing social security numbers. Any other information can legally be shared.

    The laws against libel and slander apply in the workplace. If the supervisor were saying that the administrative assistant was a heroin addict, the admin could sue. However, the company would not be responsible for this conduct, the supervisor would. And, libel and slander do not apply when the information is true. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  37. Mallary Says:

    Hello recently i found out that a new manager at the well known company that had let me go couple of years ago told my sister who he is interested in the reasoning behind me them letting me go. Is that against the wisconsin confidentiality law?

  38. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Mallary! This may have been unwise or unprofessional, but the manager did not violate any Wisconsin privacy laws. Basically the law requires the employer to keep your social security number and any private medical information confidential. There is no law that would require that every employment decision be kept private. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  39. lovely Says:

    i was fired for a crazy thing that happened. i told my GM not to tell anyone. and he went and told employees. is this illegal. i was honest to what happened. and i havent been found guilty of anything? he has defamed my character and reputation. bc everyone thinks im a thief

  40. Caitlin Says:

    Hi lovely! Sorry, but we would have to know a lot more about what you did, and why you were fired, to determine whether this was okay or not.
    Your GM is not under any legal obligation to keep your secrets, even if you ask him to. Although some companies have a policy that employee discipline matters must be kept confidential, there is no law that requires it.
    You should generally assume that everything you say to your boss or a coworker will be repeated. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

  41. Jim Says:

    I was recently fired for not being available 24/7, failed to answer a call on my cell phone. My position is a sales manager. Also 2 months before this I was diagnoised with possible leukemia. I went in and told my manager about my situation so he would understand why I would be taking time off to go to Dr. Appts.
    The day after I was terminated he called the remaining staff into a conference and told them I was termintaed because I refused to do the job of a sales manager. He also told the staff that I did not have leukemia and that it was all a fake.
    I was at this job for 7 years, and am 59n years old

  42. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Jim! And your question is…*Is this legal?* Yes, it may be.

    If the employer had 50 or more employees within 75 miles, you were probably entitled to unpaid leave under FMLA to attend doctors appointments. FMLA also permits you to take time off if you are unable to work. Unfortunately, it does not excuse poor performance. The employer is not required to change the performance standards for your position, due to FMLA. Many employers expect sales managers and other employees to be available by phone 24/7.

    If you actually had leukemia, cancer is a disability under ADA. This law applies to an employer with 15 or more employees. ADA permits you to request a reasonable accommodation for your disability — such as a modification in work schedule or duties. However, you would only be entitled to an accommodation if you actually had cancer.

    There is no law that requires you to disclose your diagnosis to your employer, and it was probably unwise to do so. (Even under FMLA, you can simply tell the employer you have a serious health condition.)

    If you disclosed your medical condition during a conversation about your group insurance benefits, that would be protected under HIPAA. The employer would be required to keep that information confidential. However, other conversatios are not protected.

    We agree that this employer acted badly, but if you were not entitled to FMLA or ADA, then what he did was legal. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Caitlin

  43. mert Says:

    my boss will not allow ANYONE to call the home office for any reason! I have questions about my insurance plan,and the fact that they are taking vision plan payments out of my check,but I still have not received any cards or any information about the policy 3 months later. I have asked to call HR about my insurance and my boss yelled at me and told me if I wanted to keep my job that I better NOT call HR or the home office for ANYTHING!! Is this Legal?? I thought HR was to help employees. He has told me he will call them with my insurance questions but he never does, and I get letters from home office telling me to call them about my insurance,but he will not let me!! I cant understand his reasoning, and really cant believe this would be legal!! HELP PLEASE!!

  44. mert Says:

    I am in the state of Kentucky if that information is needed. I have numerous questions about my insurance nad do not understand why I can not call HR. he will not allow anyone, and if you do, you get fired immediately!!

  45. mert Says:

    is that legal? to forbid and fire you for calling HR?

  46. Caitlin Says:

    Hi mert! There is a lot more going on here than just your questions about insurance. Forbidding an employee from phoning other divisions of the corporate office is one thing. The main purpose of a middle manager like your boss is to handle employee problems and customer complaints so that upper management does not have to.

    However, it is very poor management to fire an employee for calling HR. You are right, that it basically defeats the purpose of having an HR department. This may be legal, but it is not a good practice.

    Your boss seems very fearful. There is something besides your insurance questions that he is hiding from HR, and he is terrified that if the corporate office finds out, he will be fired.

    Since you have questions regarding your insurance, and HR wants to discuss them, you should contact HR on your own. You really do not need the permission of your boss to do this. Preferably, phone HR from a cell phone or your own phone, rather than from work. Immediately tell HR that your boss has threatened to fire you if you contact them. Hopefully, they will take action to straighten this situation out.HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  47. Patricia Says:

    Is there any law about Management discussing problems with employees with other employees but never telling the employee who is doing wrong.

  48. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Patricia! This is poor management, but it is legal. If we understand correctly, the manager has a problem with employee B. Instead of discussing it with employee B, he or she is discussing it with employee A. This is not good management technique, but there is no law that companies must be well-managed. (The exception would be that often a manager cannot discuss one employees medical information with another employee.) If you are employee B in this scenario, a good way to handle the problem is to address it directly in a tactful conversation with the employer. “Bob, I understand there is a problem with the way I do purchase orders. Can you explain this to me?” Sometimes an employee with excellent interpersonal skills can overcome poor interpersonal skills by a manager. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  49. Patricia Says:

    re post of December 16th, 2010 at 9:28 am

    It is not only discussed with other employees but shown on the video to all other employees and discussed by all who see it. It happens all the time with all employees.

    Also is there any rules regarding opening other employees mail?

  50. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Patricia! Ah, that changes things. It sounds as if all employees are being video taped and the tapes are played at meetings and discussed. There is actually nothing wrong with this as a training strategy. Presumably, employee A will be discussed on some occasions and employee B will be discussed on other occasions. If the employers goal is to improve performance of all employees, then obviously the tape should be shown to the employee herself, and discussed with her.

    There is no law that would prevent an employer from opening mail sent to the workplace, even if it were personal mail addressed to an employee. In fact, sound accounting procedures would require that all mail be opened by a designated person before being distributed. Often this person is an executive secretary or mail-room supervisor. (In the past, employees have sometimes embezzled money from the company by having clients send checks addressed to the employee directly.) The solution to this problem is for the employee to receive personal mail at home or at a post office box, rather than at work. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  51. Patricia Says:

    re:December 16th, 2010 at 10:58 am

    What if it is the Manager on Duty who opens the mail?

    And as for the video it is watched by the other employees soley to see what goes on during other shifts and then there is a gossip session between just certain (favorites/the click) employees. Then the people tell all the other employees who in turn tell the person who was being watched but nothing is ever said about this to the employee who is being watched.

  52. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Patricia! Thanks for clarifying! If a certain in-group of employees is watching the tape and gossiping about another employee, that would be poor management but not necessarily something that was illegal. Cliques in the workplace are usually a poor idea and good managers discourage them.
    It would be acceptable for a Manager on Duty to open all mail. Again, any mail addressed to an employee at the place of business can be opened by the business. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  53. patrick Says:

    i worked for a county government for 5 years at the time i was hired the drug testing policy was pre-employment and post accident to wich i signed a acknoledgement form. sometime during 2008 they changed their policy and deemed my position safety sensitive. i was not made aware of this october of 2010 i had two supervisors show up where i was working and tell me i was going to take some tests for probable cause because i had an odor of alcohol i subsequntly blew over the amount they had deemed acceptable and was terminated.when i asked for my personell file there was a unsigned acknoledgement form for existing employees that said i agreed and understood as a condition of my employment i had to sign this. i asked other people from other departments that i knew and had the same position as me if they had recieved this and they had.i was a union employee,there were five of us, in a department of 155. we were frowned upon and people were punished for even speaking to us.can they change the policy and only make some people aware of it?

  54. Caitlin Says:

    Hi patrick! First we will say that we have limited sympathy for you. There is no law that protects an employees right to be under the influence of alcohol at work. You may want to be honest with yourself about the reasons why this happened, and take any steps necessary to correct the problem. By definition, if you fail a breathalyzer test and lose your job, you have a problem with alcohol. It is reasonable for an employer to expect workers to be sober.
    But that is not what you asked, is it?
    You may have a case for wrongful termination here. It sounds like the employer retaliated against union employees, and that may have played a part in your termination.
    An employer can change policies anytime they want and does not necessarily have to inform employees. However, in most states you must be informed of a change in the drug test policy or sign off on it. For that reason, we suggest you find an attorney and file a lawsuit for wrongful termination against the employer. But also address the root cause of this problem, okay? HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Caitlin

  55. patrick Says:

    thanks! and i wasnt legally intoxicated not that makes it a whole lot better. but had i been aware of the new policy im sure i would have been alot more careful with my decisions! also during the process of termination they didnt follow there own procedure. not sure if that makes a difference i just think they were so happy to fire a union employee they might have gotten a little over zealous when they thought they had good cause

  56. Caitlin Says:

    Hi again patrick! That is good to know. We agree that your union membership was a factor in your termination, which is illegal. It may also have been a factor in you not being informed of the policy or asked to sign the notice. Have you spoken with the union about this? They may be able to appeal the decision for you. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  57. Randy Says:


    My wife has had a very strange discipline procedure take place at her job. She was disciplined by the owner of a small business with a non-employee as witness to the discipline. The person who is a non-employee works as an Independent Contractor for the company, however. There is probably nothing that can be done, but it just seems to be some kind of right to privacy violation. I would like to know if this qualifies as illegal, or is this just one more thing employers can get away with?


  58. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Randy! This is unprofessional and bad management, but it is legal. The old saying in HR is “discipline in private, praise in public.” However, there is no law that requires an employer to do so. Nor is there any law that requires a business to be well-managed, and the one where you wife works is not. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  59. Devon Says:


    I had to contact my supervisor while out sick. I gave her the reason I was out over the phone. When I returned to work, several of my co-workers approached me about my condition. They knew why I was out and stated specifically who told them (my supervisor). One co-worker said she went as far as telling her not to touch anything at my desk because I was contagious. I was so embarrassed. I contacted an HR consultant regarding the matter. She stated a this was not a HIPAA violation because I told my supervisor verbally over the phone. Had there been medical documentation, it would be a violation concern. THIS IS A VERY LARGE HOSPITAL IN TEXAS I WORK FOR. My major is also Health Information Management. What should I do?

  60. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Devon! Unfortunately, the HR person is correct. When you freely share your medical condition with anyone at work, even your supervisor, they are allowed to repeat that information. This is not necessarily professional conduct, but it is legal.

    If they had accessed your medical records, that would be a HIPAA violation. Medical information disclosed during any conversations you have with HR about benefits or ADA accommodations are also confidential information.

    In the future, you should simply tell your supervisor that you are ill, or that you have a serious health condition — but not the diagnosis. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  61. Chanel Says:

    Hello, is it illegal in NYS . I uses to report to an woman , and for attendance reasons i was written up. I have since moved on to another dept under a great boss. However, my friend now works for her and my former boss disclosed to her that she had to write me before, and then proceeded to lie that she had to write me up every year I worked for her. Can she disclose that information? Is that legal

  62. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Chanel! There is no law that prevents a supervisor from discussing one employees performance with another employee. This is a matter of company policy. Some employers would frown on this, others would allow it. You can certainly go to HR if you believe this is a violation of company policy.

    If the supervisor is spreading negative information that is false, you can hire an attorney and sue her for libel or slander. However, you will have to pay the attorney. A better tactic might be to just tell your friend there are two sides to every story. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  63. Mahogany Says:

    I was wondering, if you have a medical issue, that you discussed with the HR Director in private, later the Director tells you business infront of a room with several of your employees… is that a violation? I live in the state of Virginia.

  64. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Mahogany! This depends upon the topic under discussion when you disclosed your medical condition. Three laws protect an employees private health information –HIPAA, GINA and ADA.

    Under HIPAA, any medical information disclosed in a discussion about healthcare benefits must be kept confidential. If the employer is self-insured, all private health information must be kept confidential. However, HIPAA does not cover health information that an employee reveals in another type of conversation.

    GINA prevents the employer from gathering or spreading information about an employees genetic makeup. This could include info like an inherited disability or condition like a heart murmur, or Multiple Sclerosis.

    ADA requires that an employer keep any medical information about an employees disability private.

    Unfortunately, if none of these situations apply, then the HR person acted in an unprofessional way, but what she did was probably legal. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  65. Natashame Says:

    I had just began a new job and ended up in the hospital with Meningitis. My Fiance called the supervisor and said I was in the hospital and they asked why? He did not tell them. He told me they wanted to speak to me so I called and said I think it may be Meningitis as I had had it twice before long ago and the symptoms were the same. the supervisor sent a company wide e-mail with any detail she received from me but I did not give any permission for her to do so. They called me everyday asking for an update and whatever details I told them they blasted out a company wide email. Being a new employee I was so embarrassed as I did not find out until I returned to work. People treated me like I had the plague. This occured in Jan. 09 in AZ. It has been bothering me for several years and I saved all the emails. Do you believe I may have some recourse. Oh I also have emails they have sent out over the past several years when other employees are out and all it states is so and so is out due to a non-disclosable medical condition, or it simply states so and so is out sick today. I am the only one who they did this to. Pls advise, many thanks!!!

  66. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Natashame! This is poor HR practice, but it does not violate any law. When you voluntarily disclose a medical diagnosis to the employer, they have the right to give that information to almost anyone. The federal HIPAA law requires that an HR person keep private health information confidential, but only if it is disclosed during a discussion of health insurance benefits, if the employer is self-insured, or if the information is disclosed during a discussion of an accommodation under ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Health information disclosed during other conversations is not confidential. Even if the employer promised to keep the information confidential, there is no law that requires them to do so.
    You are never required to give an employer a diagnosis. Even for FMLA, you can simply say that you have “a serious health condition” and leave it at that.
    The only real legal concern here is that you were treated differently from other employees. There may be a bona fide legal reason for that, if their condition was covered by ADA and yours was not. However, if an employer disclosed medical information on women but not men (or vice versa) that would be illegal discrimination. You can certainly file a complaint with the EEOC about discrimination, or with the U.S. Department of Labor about a HIPAA violation. This will at least encourage the employer not to do this again. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  67. James Says:

    Hi! Was wondering if their is a law in Massachusetts pertaining to fellow employees going over your time card?

  68. Caitlin Says:

    Hi James! There are very few confidentiality laws in Massachusetts or any other states related to timecards. There is no law that would prevent a coworker from reviewing your timecard, and with an old-style punch clock,it is hard to see how the employer could prevent it. If your coworkers are changing the informationn, that would be illegal. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Caitlin

  69. Tierra Says:

    If Human Resource say if we havent contacted you then we have no futher information for you what does that mean?

  70. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Tierra! It may mean that they feel they have already answered your question, and they have no additional information for you. It sounds like you want them to do something, and they are refusing. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  71. susan Says:

    I was fired for not making probationary period not up to company standards ie using contacts from a previous job can i get unemployment

  72. Caitlin Says:

    Hi susan! If we understand correctly, you were fired for not achieving the expected sales quotas. This was beyond your control, so you should qualify for unemployment benefits.If you were fired for intentional misconduct, then you would not be eligible for unemployment. However, behaving ethically (refusing to use insider info learned when you worked for a competitor) is probably not intentional misconduct. If you are denied unemployment benefits, you should appeal on this basis. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  73. Jebediah Says:

    I took a UA and was told I had passed and allowed to begin my new job, a week and a half later I was told I failed and was suspended, I found out a couple days later the GM had told other employees about my test results, when I contacted HR they just forwarded my email back to the GM, when i did get fired i was paid less than what my contract stated i would be paid, is any of this legal? I know its not ethical.

  74. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Jebediah! If you failed a pre-employment Urine Analysis drug test, then the employer can fire you in most states. But you are right — they should not be sharing the results with other employees. Even if it is legal, it is not ethical. Ideally, the employer would wait to hire an applicant until the results of the drug test were in. It would be unlawful for them to pay you less than your contract stipulated. You should contact your state Department of Labor, or the US Department of Labor, or an attorney. Of course, the real problem here is not the employer or the drug test — its that your use of recreational drugs is affecting you life in negative ways. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Caitlin

  75. Beverly Says:

    I was recently fired along with two other reports. They violated policies and were rightfully terminated. I was also terminated as the manager because they reported to me. Several business clients from that employer have called me to inform me that a current employee of the branch is divulging information that all three of us were fired along with private information about the situation. What can be done to silence this employee?

  76. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Beverly! Your best bet is to contact the company by certified mail, or have an attorney contact them, and demand that they stop. Using the words “cease and desist” in your letter may help, if you cannot afford an attorney.
    To give the employer the benefit of the doubt, they may not know what this employee is doing. And, the employee might believe that she is telling the truth — although her gossiping is still unwise.
    Sadly, there are few laws that protect an ex-employees confidentiality in the workplace. The best practice in HR is to avoid giving out negative information, but there is actually no law that specifically prohibits it. This situation is covered by the libel and slander laws, however, that would require that you hire an attorney and sue the employer.
    You have a stronger case because the information the employee is spreading is false. Often, the fact that information is true is an effective defense against a lawsuit for libel or slander.
    If you send a letter to the company, make it clear that you will engage an attorney if this behavior continues. Do not specifically threaten to sue the employer — that can be unlawful. HTH, an thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  77. jennifer Says:

    What are the laws when an employee shares another employees timecard information (dates worked) with another employee or outside person?

  78. Caitlin Says:

    Hi jennifer! It is not a best practice in HR to share such information, but there is no federal or state law that prohibits it.
    As you know from reading the article above, there are few laws that protect the confidentiality of general information in the workplace. So there is nothing that would make it illegal for an employer or coworker to share information about hours or days worked, as in “Tina is not here today” or “Tina did not work Saturday.” HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  79. mari Says:

    Is it ok for an employer to tell ur co-workers to convence you to not file for workers comp.

  80. Caitlin Says:

    Hi mari! No, this is not ethical or legal. The employer has broken the law, although that might be difficult to prove.
    Under the law, the employer must pay all medical expenses for any work-related injury or illness. This is true, even if you caused the accident that produced the injury. It is unlawful for an employer to try to influence an employee to not file for workers comp, or to not report an injury. It is also illegal retaliation for an employer to take any negative action against an employee who does file a workers comp claim.
    If you have a work-related injury or illness, you should file a workers comp claim — no exceptions. If you do not, you may regret it for the rest of your life.
    Because the employer has already taken negative action against you, you should consult an attorney who specializes in personal injury or workers comp cases. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  81. tim Says:

    hi caitlyn, is there a law governing employee salary confidentiality? our HR shared my salary information with a colleague having the same title and rank.

  82. Caitlin Says:

    Hi tim! The HR department has acted in a very unusual way, but what they have done is legal. There is no federal or state law that requires employers to keep employee salary information confidential. In fact, it is usually the HR department that wants employees to safeguard this information.
    However, if you and your colleague are being paid very different amounts, that may be a significant problem. Under the Ledbetter Act passed in early 2009, employers must be more vigilant than ever to avoid illegal discrimination in pay. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  83. Dee Dee Says:

    A formal complaint against me was not kept confidential and my reputation during the process was not protected. The allegations against me were false but now I deal with the rumors. Do I have legal recourse?

  84. cc Says:

    I have an employee where I work that has been calling my boyfriend telling him if I am at work, if I leave work and if certain men come to see me. What legal actions can I take against this person? This has caused allot of unnecessary anguish in my life – hostility from my now ex-boyfriend. I believe this has caused an assassination of my character

  85. Karen Says:

    I was a CEO for a non for profit organization. Two board members had me sign a “Confidentality Agreement” when it was decided to sepate me from employment.

    I was paid for another three months and considered a Consultant, and continued to work from home when ever the board needed me, or the interim CEO. (I worked about 10 hours a week during that 90 days).

    The board agreed to give a positive reference as I searched for my next job.

    Unfortunately, I have not found a job yet, and my 90 additional days of pay is almost up.

    Will I be able to receive unemployment? And since there is a confidentiality agreement in place, when going after unemployment can either party communicate the actual reason the board felt I was. O longer the right fit foe the position?

    Thank you.

  86. wanda logan Says:

    is it ilegal in ga to be terminated in ga when there is
    a Dr. stating that return to work date is sept 12 and all other employees know that the person is terminated
    before he is notified.

  87. hrlady Says:

    Hi Wanda,

    Georgia is an “at-will” state meaning you or your employer can terminate employment at any any time, for any reason. Also in Georgia, a separation letter is not required when an employer terminates an employee.

    I am not sure based on your question if you are off on sick leave, disability or FMLA. If you are on FMLA your employer must return you to your position or equivalent position, when you are released from your doctor. However, if you are not on FMLA, your employer can terminate you while on or after a return from sick benefits, provided there is no discrimination.

    Now as far as other employee knowing the person is going to be terminated, it can be speculation or office gossip. If the employer is actually, sharing confidential information, there is no law against it, but it does not make it right.

    Rather than speculate on what you are hearing, contact the Human Resource department. You may get some clarification on some issues.

  88. Teri Says:

    A friend of mine works in a call center that engages in a lot of questionnable practices, but recently had a disagreement in which the manager told her, in front of the entire sales staff “I am tired of tiptoeing around you because you are bi-polar”. She is not bi-polar and no medical diagnosis of any mental illness, and feels that this is defamation of character…does she have any recourse?

  89. Stefanie Says:


    Recently a coworker & friend was hospitalized from a heart attack. I setup a gofund me account to help him. I sent it to people @ work and people that have worked with him before. I also updated the website with an update that he had posted on his facebook after he was out of the hospital. I was pulled into HR and written up from stating information regarding his condition. I informed HR that the account was setup through my personal email and yes it was sent to peoples work address. I also informed HR that i had spoke with this personal and he persoal updated me on his condititon. She then told me that his wife and called into HR and asked her to not annouce to the company is condititon. Can I be written up for this?

  90. hrlady Says:

    Hi Stefanie,

    Every company has rules regarding employee conduct, and if you broke any company rules you can probably be written up.

    Without knowing your company rules, solicitation may be one of the rules. Another rule may be inappropriate use of company e-mail. The fact that you did a good deed, with the person’s permission, does not negate the fact you may have broken work rules. And when it was brought to the company’s attention, by your friend’s wife, it may have put the company in an awkward position.
    So yes you may be written up, depending on the company’s rules.

    Thank you for reading the

  91. Josh Says:

    He, i have a question about being fired from my job. Today my landlord knocked on my door saying he was concerned about me payin rent because i was fired from my job, my landlord actually told this to my
    Girlfriend. This was all way before i was actually terminated from my employer and i i didnt know i was actually terminated until i heard what my landlord said to my girlfriend and the. Called hr for then to twll me themselves. So i guess one of the general mangers is my landlords son-in-law and decied to tell him before i was iformed. Is that a violation in any kind?

  92. hrlady Says:

    Hi Josh,

    It is not a violation of any kind; however, it was probably not appropriate. You should have been notified of your termination before the word got out. It was also not appropriate for your landlord to discuss your financial situation in front of someone else. So although no laws were broken, the discussions should have been with you first.

    Thank you for reading the

  93. Fred Says:

    Is it illegal for a former employer to disclose information to customers on why you no longer work for the company and where you are currently working?

  94. hrlady Says:

    Hi Fred,

    There are no federal laws that limit the information about what an employer can say about a former employee. An employer can disclosed that an employee was fired and they can give a reason such as stealing or falsifying hours worked.

    However, what an employer says about a former employee needs to be truthful. If the information they disclose is not truthful the company can be sued for defamation of character.

    Most employers today will not disclose information about a former employee; however some companies do disclose information.

    Thank you for reading the

  95. mandy Says:

    Is it illegal for hr to tell anyone that you had surgery?
    I had a miscarriage and nobody knew I was even pregnant I told no one why I was off besides my husband and my mother. I got a text saying I hear you had surgery, which puts me in a horrible situation now because people are going to ask me about it. I thought hr could just say you are on leave not to mention your reason why. My intention was to not have to answer questions about it. People will naturally ask. This human resource lady is the only one at work that knew, can I do anything.

  96. hrlady Says:

    Hi Mandy,
    When you return to work to should speak to the Human Resource person about the text you received. You should also tell her that this was a personal matter and you did not want it discussed with anyone inside the company.
    As far as other employees asking you can simply state that you had a medical issue to deal with and you are feeling fine. You do not need to go into any details with others.
    Thank you for reading the

  97. mandy Says:

    My question is can hr disclose that you had surgery to anyone or can they just say you will be on leave.

  98. hrlady Says:

    Hi Mandy,
    The HR department should not disclose to anyone the specific reason you were out of work. You can disclose to anyone at your work why you were out of work.
    If you have not returned to work, you should phone the HR department and discuss that your surgery was a private matter and not to be disclosed to anyone, otherwise it may be a HIPPA violation,
    Thank You for reading the

  99. djbucci Says:

    Hi Mandy

    We have someone who just got hired at our store who came from a “sister” company. This new co-worker was very pushy with other co-workers. So our manager asked for a follow up reference from another manager who works at another store via text message. The text was sent to the applicant who is now working for us. Will this lead to termination for the manager who asked for the reference.

    Thanks DBJ

  100. hrlady Says:

    Unless the manager violated an internal communication policy, requesting a reference from another manager on a transferring employee via text message may be poor judgment but it’s not a just cause for termination. There are no federal laws that limit how an employer can request or provide reference information on a former employee. Also, I would be more interested in how the transferred employee received the text. If her previous manager sent it to her then he used extremely poor judgment in doing so. The new manager has every right to talk to the employee’s previous manager about his performance. The matter should be addressed with a Director or HR. HTH.

  101. TrailRider1964 Says:

    Good morning!
    I am a new HR manager, and climbing the learning curve as fast as I can.
    On several occasions, employees have asked me for the home address of co-workers, or former co-workers.
    The reasons have varied: most common reason is to send flowers when an employee or a family member is hospitalized.
    My question is: can I get into legal trouble for giving out an employee’s home address?

  102. hrlady Says:

    Hi TrailRider, It really depends on the privacy laws in your state. Generally, an address is not considered legally protected information. You can usually find an individual’s address either online or in the phone book. However, that doesn’t mean you should give it out freely. As HR Professionals, we’re expected to keep employee’s information including their addresses private. So, it’s advisable to ask the employee for permission to disclose his/her address to another worker. Of course, this may be difficult to do in some circumstances (i.e. employee illness or previous employee) so you have to use your best judgment. Just remember the potential liability if the information is given to someone who then uses it improperly. For example, a disgruntled employee could use a co-workers address to stalk him/her or rob his/her house. You may be held liable for disclosing the information that permitted the worker to perform illegal acts. Again, you have to use your judgment. If you know an employee is out sick and co-workers want to send flowers, maybe consider having your assistant send them out so the address isn’t released to several workers. Or, considering adopting a policy/practice that prohibits the release of employee addresses to anyone including co-workers. This may not be well received in the company but it will provide protection. Also, it’s best to never release an employee’s address or any personal information to a third party without a signed release form from the employee unless you have a subpoena. HTH!

  103. preggo mommy Says:

    I recently resigned from my job as Human Resources for a company to go work at a new company. My new boss also resigned from my former company as did other employees to go to this new company. Now my former boss is threatening to sue us, he’s claiming we are soliciting employees to come to the new company which we are not. Individually he is claiming he found unethical information on my old work phone to another former employee about me wanting to leave there and about me being upset that the person he hired to replace me was going to be making more than me but never an actual dollar amount disclosed just stating she was going to be making more and it was unfair. Can he sue me for texts messages he found after I resigned with proper notice?

  104. hrlady Says:

    Based on the information provided, it doesn’t appear that any criminal/civil violation occurred. Did you have a contract with your former boss stating that as a HR rep you cannot recruit past or current employees of company? If so, you may be bound to suffer the consequences of such violation. Besides that I’m not sure what your former boss thinks he can claim against you. Now, in all honesty, as a HR professional you should know not to use company property for personal use. Such communications can and often are monitored. But, again, unless the “unethical” information is illegal activity, I’m not sure what he thinks can be claimed against you from a legal perspective. It sounds like he’s just upset.

  105. michelle aguilar Says:

    I’m going to be blunt. Are you pro management? Are you being objective? I can’t help wonder that from some of the responses you’re giving and the tone. I work in HR by the way.

  106. hrlady Says:

    Hi Michelle,
    Pro Management? Not necessarily. Objective? We try to be. We aim to provide employers with guidance on their legal responsibilities and practical advice. Protecting employee confidentiality is an integral part of HR. Employees need to trust us with their private information. Further, we must ensure proper precautions are taken with employee data in accordance with federal and state laws to protect the business (and ourselves) from negligence. Feel free to include more comments. Bluntness welcomed!

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