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What to Do If Your Privacy is Invaded at Work

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 15 Oct 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 address has been obtain from work and used to send a distressing Funky Pigeon card, can I log a grievance at work ?
Bev - 15-Oct-19 @ 8:53 PM
Hi, my boss allows his partner (not an employee of the company) to go through the company files which include HR files, bank statements, financial documents etc.She has even had keys cut to all the cabinets. Is this allowed?
Fruit Tree - 12-Sep-19 @ 4:47 PM
I suspect a colleague of mine has looked at my medical records via the hospital records which we can access due to our job role. She has done this and found out about my recent surgery! How do I prove this ? And who can I report it too ?
Bam1 - 9-Aug-19 @ 7:38 PM
My employer sent me a email telling me the EDD will garnish my check and in the email there was an attachment when I open the attachment it belonged to another employee and had the notice EDD sent my employer with this employee personal info and SSN.When I told my employer about this they said sorry for the confusion and then they sent me my notice from the EDD. So my concern now is what if my employer sent my information to the wrong person.This has caused so much stress and I already have trust issues.What can I do about this?And can I be compensated for all the stress and discomfort this has caused me. And I feel my information is not safe with them. I told my friend about this and sarcastically he said poor guy are you going to sign up for credit cards with his ssn. This maybe was meant as a joke but I feel my reputation is being affected.Please tell me if I have a case here and any advice would be helpful
Virgo - 23-Jul-19 @ 7:54 PM
Hi, I keep notes on a personal notebook which I keep in my handbag. My handbag is in another room behind my workstation and I'm pretty sure someone has been in there and been through my notes. The notes are mainly about incidents at work. I'm a former union repand always advise people to keep notes about what is going on, especially if they intend to report things. My question is, what can I do about this and what can the person do with the info gleened from my notebook? Everything in the book is factual so not worried about that. Appreciate any advice you could give. Regards, Louise
LDiva - 19-Jul-19 @ 11:31 AM
My wife was absent from work with a personal illness and her acting line manager put details of the condition my wife was suffering with on the online staff shift rota, that was accessible and visible to all her colleagues at her place of work causing distress and embarrassment . Is this a data protection breach and what should she do ?
SeanP - 9-Jul-19 @ 8:28 PM
What do I do if my co workers are giving my address and phone number to clients at work without my permission and the boss has been told and hasn't done anything about it
Patty - 2-Jul-19 @ 3:13 AM
My partner handed in her notice. On her last day at work she went to her locker to find the contents had been emptied out and left in a shared crew room. No request no notifications. Just bags thrown in a corner. If it was after her last day I may excuse this insensitive action. But before she left is outrageous. Surely this is a breach of privacy and at least highly inappropriate. It sums up the whole attitude this company has regatding confidentiality and GDPR. Ive e mailed in as I am furious as she always gave then her best and doesnt deserve being treated in such a way.Any advice please? Thanks
Silverback - 17-Jun-19 @ 10:15 AM
Hi I have an investigation at work for breach of conduct . I work in a supermarket on a holiday resort. It’s about my old manager who was suspended but I did know for at least 1 or 2 weeks as she now works on a different department I heard from people talking in the queuing line I told 1 person thinking it common knowledge is this are they allowed to do this as the people who mentioned it saw her getting escorted of by security this doesn’t seem fair at all
Lee38 - 4-Jun-19 @ 8:08 PM
A potential manager has asked hr my salary and has been provided it. I may or may not work for them going forward. Surely they should it have provided this confidential information to this person, especially without my permission.
Sez - 22-May-19 @ 9:00 PM
I left my phone on my desk while the only employee of the office stayed in the room while I leftand went out for a few minutes. On return I try to access my phone and I get my security code wrong, immediately it says I'm locked out for 5 minutes. Prior to this I was travelling with this employee for a few days and it's possible they saw the first digits of the code. Both of us are in probation, what should I do?
MrB - 21-May-19 @ 8:22 PM
I have been off work through illness, mainly mental health and emotional issues, I have had the full backing of my GP and have submitted several sick notes, I was advised by my GP to take a break. During the time off I went on holiday, someone has printed a picture of me on holiday which they have downloaded from social media. They have handed it to my employer, who then refused to let me into the building to collect some personal belongings that a colleague had sorted for me. This has set me back weeks. I was feeling up to going back to work but not now. What can I do?
The boss - 5-May-19 @ 2:48 PM
Someone at work took a picture of me while on a break got the sack and wanted to know what action can be taken.
Ital - 23-Apr-19 @ 10:17 AM
I unknowingly recorded and sent (unintentionally) a private conversation between myself and my husband, venting about work issues and some coworkers and now former managers. This personal conversation was accidentally recorded by me and was sent to a co-worker's voicemail (either his cell phone or his work phone, I'm not sure which channel.) The co-worker never told me about it and did let his manager (who is now my manager) listen. I just became aware of this because I had been experiencing hostility and sabotage from this coworker and I asked him why he was doing that. He then told me-in front of his now our manager-that I had accidentally sent him a voicemail of a conversation between my husband and I, venting and trashing some coworkers and some managment. This happend a year ago. I was never made aware of the discover. What should I do? I asked the coworker what he did with the message and he said he deleted it. What is the proper protocol in these instances?
sunnydee - 29-Mar-19 @ 12:29 PM
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
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