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What to Do If Your Privacy is Invaded at Work

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 26 Sep 2018 | 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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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
@Dave - it depends upon how you view it. If the files were marked confidential, then possibly. However, it's best to bring her in first and find out the reason why the files were viewed. You should have your own disciplinary procedures in place and on her contract. If you want to dismiss then the reason has to be a fair one.
MeM - 23-Jul-18 @ 10:42 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
Eee - Your Question:
My manager searched my bag when I was not there is this allowed

Our Response:
Employers should have a written policy on searching, please see gov.uk link here . If the terms of your contract does not conform with your manager's actions, then as outlined in the article, you can try to resolve the issue with your manager informally. If you are not satisfied with the explanation, then you can make a formal grievance complaint in writing. See link here.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 13-Mar-18 @ 10:27 AM
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
My line manager added myself and all my colleagues to a Whatsapp group without first asking permission. Now my entire office has my private mobile number and vice versa. I left, and advised that I do not want to be a part of the group as I keep work and home life separate and yet I was added back and told I MUST stay in the group As it it easier for them to send information to the whatsapp group than call staff individually should the office have to close due to the weather for eg.
Dcham - 2-Mar-18 @ 7:29 PM
A colleague left a drive open on a pc which is normally restricted and you need certain user permissions to open.Another colleague accessed personal data from the folders on this drive.They showed me a passport, cv and photograph.I told them to get out the drive and not to go back in to it.They made a joke and said they could copy the whole drive and no one would know they were showing me various external drives.I felt I had been put in a bad position by this colleague.The following day I thought about confronting this colleague and asking if they had copied the drive before speaking to my line manager.I decided not to ask.Having reflected on it I asked my IT department can you see what was copied and to where?They have now reported my query to my managing partner who has pulled me in to ask why I wanted to know this information.I told her what had happened.I am now under threat of losing my job because I did not report it to my boss right away.
Porter - 23-Feb-18 @ 5:45 AM
Morgan - Your Question:
I am classed as the perpetrator in this instance and would like to know the most likely outcome for any disciplinary action when I am called in.I came across a colleagues salary on a sheet of paper left in the printer tray as I collected my own paperwork (I did not actively seek this information).I then searched the web to see if it was legal to discuss this information with my other colleagues and came across this statement on the ACAS website:'The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to prevent employees from having discussions to establish if there are differences in pay. However, an employer can require their employees to keep pay rates confidential from people outside of the workplace'.Rightly or wrongly, I saw this as the green light to talk to my other coworkers.This information has now got back to HR as somebody has obviously made a complaint against me.Word has spread quickly and I have even had a senior manager ask me how much was the salary I saw.Where do you think I stand on disciplinary action being taken?

Our Response:
Unless there is anywhere in the terms and conditions of your contract about confidentiality, then you are free to discuss this information, if it has been discovered. Some employers opt for salary transparency (where salaries are given on a sliding/equal scale), some employers do not and allow for employees to negotiate their salary. Much depends upon the employers. You may wish to speak to ACAS directly before your meeting, so that you know where you stand legally.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 15-Feb-18 @ 10:54 AM
I am classed as the perpetrator in this instance and would like to know the most likely outcome for any disciplinary action when I am called in. I came across a colleagues salary on a sheet of paper left in the printer tray as I collected my own paperwork (I did not actively seek this information). I then searched the web to see if it was legal to discuss this information with my other colleagues and came across this statement on the ACAS website: 'The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to prevent employees from having discussions to establish if there are differences in pay. However, an employer can require their employees to keep pay rates confidential from people outside of the workplace'. Rightly or wrongly, I saw this as the green light to talk to my other coworkers. This information has now got back to HR as somebody has obviously made a complaint against me. Word has spread quickly and I have even had a senior manager ask me how much was the salary I saw. Where do you think I stand on disciplinary action being taken?
Morgan - 14-Feb-18 @ 11:41 AM
Shaun - Your Question:
Great website very interesting, I do have a question about my personal information at work, in 2015 I was off work for 5 weeks due to metal health issues and in my time of I was asked to contact my employer I found it best to email as I was having a hard time talking to people. I sent a very personal email about my health to my head of HR. Now in 2018 I was told that everybody in the company had access to read every email private or for work that leaves or comes into the company, as long as you log into a computer ( passwords are always an employees initials and we can not change them ) then you can read every email on the system from or to any member of staff, I have found my personal email still on the system and after talking to other employees have found that my email has been read many times without my permission, this has made me feel very upset and unconformable as there was sensitive date in the email. Is this legal by my company and can I get them to remove my email? thanks for any help.

Our Response:
You would have to speak to your employer or HR directly regarding this matter, as all emails should be private and confidential. Likewise, your employer should have a privacy policy which you can request. If you’re a worker 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 - 12-Feb-18 @ 12:41 PM
Great website very interesting, I do have a question about my personal information at work, in 2015 i was off work for 5 weeks due to metal health issues and in my time of i was asked to contact my employer i found it best to email as i was having a hard time talking to people. I sent a very personal email about my health to my head of HR. Now in 2018 i was told that everybody in the company had access to read every email private or for work that leaves or comes into the company, as long as you log into a computer ( passwords are always an employees initials and we can not change them ) then you can read every email on the system from or to any member of staff, I have found my personal email still on the system and after talking to other employees have found that my email has been read many times without my permission, this has made me feel very upset and unconformable as there was sensitive date in the email. Is this legal by my company and can i get them to remove my email? thanks for any help.
Shaun - 10-Feb-18 @ 9:02 PM
Amac - Your Question:
I requested an Roe from the HR department at my workplace and I received someone else's. With their full name, address, financial information/ income, information on their type of leave. If I have all this personal information on someone, it leads me to believe that someone else got mine. How do I handle this with my employer. I'm annoyed that it has happened and that someone else propably has my information. I'm mad for myself and for the woman who's information I was sent, and who's privacy and information was exposed to a stranger.

Our Response:
If you’re a worker 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 - 9-Feb-18 @ 2:40 PM
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