By Michael Cormier
Privacy is one of those nebulous things we all think we understand, but really don’t. Ask someone on the street, for instance, whether privacy is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, and the answer is likely to be a resounding, “Of course!” After all, this is the United States, land of the free.
But privacy isn’t guaranteed in the Constitution, at least not directly. There is no clause stating that all citizens have the right to privacy, or that the government will respect each individual’s privacy. It’s implied in places, but not exactly defined. That’s because the founding fathers realized just how broad the idea of privacy is. Like the difference between pornography and art, you can’t really sum it up in a single sentence. Yet you know it when you see it, right?
In the workplace it’s no less difficult to put your finger on. Which is why every company should have an expert on board that deals in sensitive background information, an expert like Hire Authority (www.hireauth.com; 508-230-5901). Hire Authority will be there for you at all stages of the employment cycle, from initial job application to final exit interview.
The issue of privacy begins with an employment prospect’s very first letter or phone call. Once that first inquiry is made, you now possess information that could prove highly sensitive. It might only be a name and a phone number. Yet that’s all it would take to get that prospect fired by her present employer if word accidentally got out that she was looking for another job.
On a job application, itself, the prospect can expect a certain measure of privacy. Inquiring about age and racial background, for example, can get an employer in trouble. Inquiring about criminal records at this stage is a no-no in most places, too. Asking for the prospect’s social security number on an application may have been okay not too long ago, but it’s frowned on now. In fact, a lot of questions that were once considered routine are now forbidden.
Once hired, you have to be careful that the new employee’s file is protected against prying eyes. Every employer has sensitive information about its workers that, if leaked, can get that company in hot water. Even after the employee has left the company her file must remain closed to all but certain agencies and persons.
It’s up to HR to understand the laws regarding employee privacy, and to do their job within these boundaries. But there are plenty of pitfalls and headaches, and it’s best to hand some of that worry over to professionals who deal in nothing but that. A company like Hire Authority (www.hireauth.com; 508-230-5901) can be a vital instrument in this respect. There is nothing more sensitive to an employee’s privacy than a background check, and Hire Authority knows this. In fact, Hire Authority has built its reputation on balancing the employer’s need for safe hiring with the employee’s statutory rights to privacy.
From the outset, Hire Authority will check anything about the employee’s background – e.g. criminal history, drug and alcohol use, financial stability – that the law allows, and conduct its investigation thoroughly and legally. Later, Hire Authority will monitor the employee’s information as the years go by and the employee changes positions within the company. Hire Authority will even perform computer forensics where necessary to prove untoward behavior by an employee.
Most disputes about employee privacy come up not because of what the employer did, but because of how it was done. For example, criminal background checks and drug analyses have become fairly routine. But you’d better provide the right disclosure, and you’d better conduct these checks at the right stage of the hiring process. A reputable firm like Hire Authority knows this, and knows how to proceed appropriately.
Proper gathering and retention of employee information is crucial in today’s litigious society, where any disgruntled employee or rejected applicant is a potential lawsuit waiting to happen. Don’t give them any ammunition. Make an investigation firm like Hire Authority (www.hireauth.com; 508-230-5901) part of your team, and you’ll be that much closer to ensuring that their rights to privacy – and your right to hire with confidence – are protected.
The foregoing should not be construed as legal advice. Employers should always consult their own legal counsel for advice on labor and employment matters.