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What to Do If Your Privacy is Invaded at Work

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 14 Feb 2019 | comments*Discuss
Privacy Work Invade Information

If your privacy is invaded at work, there are two possible culprits. The first is the company itself, which may have compromised your privacy by asking for inappropriate information or by not handling your data safely and confidentially. The second possibility is that an individual in the workplace has invaded your privacy personally. Let us look at these two scenarios in turn.

Your Company

It is quite possible that your employer does not respect your privacy as much as you do. Perhaps personal information that is not directly relevant to the employer-employee relationship is kept on your personnel file. This slack attitude toward privacy issues makes it likely that some sort of breach will take place.

Remember that your employer has a duty under the Data Protection Act to ask you only for those details that it needs in order to employ you, and to restrict its use of such details to this use. If you think you are being asked to provide data that is not relevant, then you have the right to withhold it.

Similarly, if you believe that access to personnel files is not being controlled strictly enough, you have cause for complaint.

Your Colleagues

Sometimes colleagues may invade your privacy by accident. If you are discussing personal matters on your work phone, you can hardly complain if a colleague overhears what you say. Similarly, if you leave confidential documents lying face-up on your desk, you should not be surprised if someone happens to glance at them. You must take some responsibility for safeguarding your own privacy.

However, suppose you discover that a colleague has accessed your personnel record inappropriately. There may be any number of people in your organisation that you are particularly keen to keep certain information from: the colleague who has always had a bit of a crush on you, the disgruntled subordinate who was expecting the promotion you got instead, and the security guard who you suspect may be a petty thief.

You should certainly make a formal complaint if you believe your details have been accessed for illegitimate reasons. This may result in procedures being tightened up, and perhaps some form of disciplinary action being taken against the perpetrator.

Unfortunately, once your information has been leaked in this way, there is not much you can do to protect it. You could move house, change your phone number and get a new bank account, for example, but none of these things is worth the effort unless you have cause to fear for your safety. If that is the case, you have more to worry about and you may be wiser to contact the police.

Taking Action

If someone has compromised your privacy at work, the action you should take depends on the severity of the breach. For a minor infraction, it may be sufficient to discuss the matter with the perpetrator and ask them not to do the same again in future.

If the invasion is somewhat more serious, such as someone requesting access to your personnel file without a legitimate need for it, then you may wish to complain to the snooper’s manager. By escalating the problem in this way, you may be able to ensure that the perpetrator does not reoffend, and you have the opportunity to request that the company tightens up its security so that similar breaches become less likely in the future.

As a last resort, you may need to contact the police. If you believe that your privacy has been invaded with criminal intent then this could be a wise course of action, since, even if it does not result in a prosecution, it will send a strong signal that you are aware of what has taken place and you are prepared to defend yourself.

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My manager has asked me to attend a disciplinary meeting as part of his evidence he has provided me with all members 15 of staff names and wages for January including hours gross pay and deductions. Is he allowed to do this or does this come under the data protection act.
Tomo1 - 14-Feb-19 @ 9:32 AM
My manager pull one of my friend I work with in the office and started asking him questions about my private life. To be more specific, she asked him if I gave him a lift to work on a certain date like 4 months ago. And if I went home afterwards? Random questions, I know. Then she said that the conversation was only between her and him and she doesn’t want him to discuss it with anyone else. Obviously, he told me. What should I do?? Think, my private life is non of her business and I don’t know what actions I should take. Why didn’t she ask me? She shouldn’t be asking this question right?
Anette - 14-Jan-19 @ 4:43 AM
I am being disciplined for breach of confidentiality and work sent the documents regarding the investigation to the wrong address what can I do about it, I have been to the address 3 times with no answer.?
B - 12-Dec-18 @ 11:26 AM
I left my previous job in may of this year. When I was still working my notice my employer told clients personal information about me hoping to discredit my character. This information was incredibly sensitive to the point that my family doesn't even know about it. The only reason I found out is because one of the clients contacted me to tell me. What can I do?
GS - 4-Dec-18 @ 10:05 AM
i had a grievance raised again me my employer gave me the colleagues statent and on it was the address phone number and email address of the accuser surely this a breach of data protection?
The Vosester - 2-Dec-18 @ 11:19 AM
I was recently called to discipline at work to which I appealed against and was successful. The manager who brought the proceedings left all my personal disciplinary details open on their desktop allowing anyone to see which they did and informed me. I looked for my self and right enough there was my confidential information in full view. What are my rights please?
T - 14-Nov-18 @ 1:02 PM
My employer opens all letters/packages addressed to me.Is this allowed?
Ben - 6-Nov-18 @ 3:20 PM
I've recently found out that my manager had gone out of her way to find personal things, to me, about me. I then found out she had been telling colleagues and also other people in different departments. I have always stressed that my life is personal and that I don't want to discuss it in the workplace, but its been breached. Is there anything I can do about it?
Jacqs - 5-Nov-18 @ 3:05 PM
My employees secretary gave out my personal details to another employee who wanted to know how long she’d been with the company. Now she’s going to everyone tell them what wages I’ve been on through the 20 years I’ve been their and what my hourly raid and wages are now.My payslip comes in a closed envelope with my name on it, so I think it’s right that she’s been give this details. Has my employees secretary breached data protection laws.
Draven - 23-Oct-18 @ 8:43 PM
I left an abusive relationship over 12 months ago, my ex partner worked along side my company in the same industry I have just handed my notice in and start a new job (fresh start) in a different industry and my boss has told my ex where I am going and when, can anyone help with what can I do about this?
Gemd - 26-Sep-18 @ 4:36 PM
I have left my noand moved to another employer I rang my old noto get my payslipwhich I was told was there readynd waiting fire me I have gone in to get it and it is not there it has been left out in the open on the desk and obviously someone has taken it is this a breach of data protection please
Andrea - 24-Sep-18 @ 7:23 PM
@Charlotte - if it's for a child maintenance claim then your employer can release the details to CMS.
MaY - 18-Sep-18 @ 9:41 AM
My employer which is a huge company have given out my personal information held in HR i.e my salary, and given them details to My ex partner from 20 years ago. I have a meeting with the ethics manager and the data protection manager, what can I say to them About this?
Charlotte - 16-Sep-18 @ 8:02 PM
My boss has given me a letter that another employee sent them to complain about me, but left that persons address visible, have they breached data protection?
Windy - 14-Aug-18 @ 6:44 AM
I manage a Guest House. My receptionist has access to a shared computer file system, so that we can both access the files in both offices. I have some confidential files on the shared system under my name, and too view any of them, she would have to go through 3 different sub files. I was off on Thursday, and when I came in on Friday, over 10 files had been viewed through Word (as it showed up on the recently viewed with times for Thursday afternoon). These included my CV, other staff members CV's who had applied for jobs, my managers reports to my bosses, also confidential files that she had no need to check, plus personal letters that I had sent. There is no way she could accidentally view them. So my question is, does this count as gross misconduct? I also understand that I have the option of not having them on the shared system, but the problem with that, is if she is off or I am working from the other office, I don't have access to them which can be a pain in the ass. I thought an element of Trust was there, now I know there isn't. Would appreciate some advice?
Dave - 22-Jul-18 @ 11:30 AM
I was informed that my personal info dated 2017 was found on the shopfloor where I work behind the till what can I do is the company at fault as nobody knows how it got there as I didn’t put it there .what should I do ive told my manager and he has more or less said it’s locked away now leave it but it’s not the point
Chelle 8 - 18-Jul-18 @ 11:12 PM
@Sue - I don't think so. There is not much you can do about it if it is except complain to your line manager.
Will - 17-Jul-18 @ 12:24 PM
I work for a company and they have given my phone number out to another employee with out my concent Are they allowed to do this or is in breech of confidentiality
Sue - 16-Jul-18 @ 6:32 PM
Hi there, I currently work for my partners family run business as an acting office manager. I am on annual leave now and two days ago my partner was contacted by his mum who was very angry about things I had said to other colleagues at work! She also asked why I had come off my contraceptive pill & why we hadn’t told the family we were trying for a baby! Just to clarify I made one comment regarding my partners brother which was not offensive I just purely stated that I didn’t agree with soemthing he was doing & the other comment was a passing comment regarding myself & my partners relationship with his family and that we are always the “last to be invited to family events”! I wasn’t rude, hostile or negative about anything and what I have said had been gossiped about in the office, twisted & somehow made it back to my managaing directors wife? The comments were made over 3 weeks ago! & my partners mum isn’t a massive fan of me anyway. Not to forget I discussed coming off the contraceptive pill with one of my fellow colleagues who used to be a pharmacist assistant - as I had health issues and just wanted a little advise! 7 months later this is being discussed in the office and now my partners family think we are trying for a baby which couldn’t be further from the truth! I’m really stuck and need some advice? It’s caused me to have anxiety on the last few days of my holiday - can I log a formal complaint to HR? I’m dreading going back to work and confronting my partners family! Thank you x
CR - 11-Jul-18 @ 8:07 AM
@RachOJE - social media is just that - it's a free-for-all. There is no breach of any data protection
Neil - 31-May-18 @ 2:42 PM
hello, I have recently had a period of time off for Mental health problems and a family bereavement. While I was on time off I met up with some friends and put a photo on social media (they took me out to cheer me up). I keep my profile private from my boss. An unknown colleague (who is one of my social media friends) printed this photo off and gave it to my boss. Is this a breach of my data protection rights? Thanks
RachOJE - 29-May-18 @ 11:09 AM
Hello. I have had my privacy invaded and I am very upset about this. I handed my notice in and told them a valid reason for leaving which was just to take the next step in my career. I was asked where my next job would be but I wanted this to be private so I told them I would rather not say. I haven’t told anyone in my workplace where I am going but I found out today that my governer(or owner) of the company has found out somehow and has told my boss. there was no way for him to know or find out unless he was trying really hard to know where I was going and I feel very disheartened after the hard work I have put in to his company. Anything I can really do? Thankyou x
Youngchef - 19-May-18 @ 8:11 PM
My practice has just been taken over by a corporate. I have been with the previous owner before the takeover for 9 years. My H.R file included my own personal details,medical information c.v references from previous employer and photo I.D so the usual items . I have been informed by our new manager that my H.R file is virtually empty and that a new request for the relevant data will be requested. The I am not the only member of staff this concerns. My main concern is where is my original data and can my old boss keep it.
Vampirediva - 14-May-18 @ 2:13 PM
FMTB - Your Question:
I am in situation where the office manager has went trough my draw and found pregnancy supplements. I know the draws are company property and I keep everything there on my risk. The problem is that he has shared this information to another manager who then went and discussed what supplements I am taking to all of my colleagues and in another office of the company. I have the right not to discuss my pregnancy until wk20, however this has been taken from me and I have received few calls from colleagues asking if it’s true. Please give me an advice?

Our Response:
If you think you have been unfairly treated and you’ve tried solving a problem or concern informally by talking to your manager but you’re not satisfied, you can make a formal grievance complaint in writing, please see link here.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 10-May-18 @ 2:42 PM
I am in situation where the office manager has went trough my draw and found pregnancy supplements. I know the draws are company property and I keep everything there on my risk. The problem is that he has shared this information to another manager who then went and discussed what supplements I am taking to all of my colleagues and in another office of the company. I have the right not to discuss my pregnancy until wk20, however this has been taken from me and I have received few calls from colleagues asking if it’s true...Please give me an advice?
FMTB - 9-May-18 @ 1:36 AM
A colleague at work has gained access to my personnel file and is using the information against me in a restructure. The colleague should not have any access to HR files, but has come upon some information. A) can they use this data b) can they be disciplined / dismissed for gathering info from a personnel file that isn't theirs and they have no right accessing?
Tony - 27-Mar-18 @ 11:07 PM
I have requested my employer full access to my personal file. I have received a copy of my file with a lot information that are not necessary, ultimately affecting my reputation (investigations that I won with clear record on file, investigations that never happened, file notes about events that never happened, unnecessary information for longer than 3 years). I have referee the case to ICO. What else can I do?
Joe - 27-Mar-18 @ 9:39 PM
My manager searched my bag when I was not there is this allowed
Eee - 12-Mar-18 @ 8:08 PM
@Flair - It's a no brainer. If you have used your work email for private use, then your employer can access any emails in your work email in or outbox. If you wish to send private emails, then you should use your private email address, which can't be accessed by anyone else.
MattT* - 6-Mar-18 @ 2:07 PM
Hi, Great website by the way, so thank you in advance for this facility. Recently returned from leave to find in my absence that my line manager has been given access to my work mailbox. The reason being that mail forwarding was erroneously going to another colleague and legitimately to my line manager. Apparently this was the only way to overcome the erroneous forwarding. I was devastated to return to this news as while I had granted permission for new incoming emails to be accessed I certainly in no way authorised access to my entire mailbox. Which contains a few emails for me only. I consider this a breach of my personal information and violated regardless whether any of this information was read or used. I rarely use my work email for private use so in no way have I overstepped the mark here. What are my rights here and what action can be taken considering the above?
Flair - 6-Mar-18 @ 4:54 AM
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