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Obligations of Employees

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 3 May 2019 | comments*Discuss
Privacy Data Obligation Protect

Whether or not you are concerned about your own privacy (and you should be) you have legal and moral obligations regarding the privacy of other people. As an employee, your duties towards this fall into two categories: your own privacy, and the privacy of those whose personal details you handle. We will discuss both of these.

Obligations Regarding Your Own Privacy

If you don’t care about your own privacy, and don’t take any steps to protect it, then you are laying yourself open to abuse. Sooner or later you will be shocked to find out that someone has stolen your identity, taken out a second mortgage on your home, and disappeared with the money. Then you will wish you had taken precautions earlier.

Your first step is to minimise the amount of information you release. It cannot be stolen or abused if it is known only to you. Your employer needs a certain amount of data about you, but perhaps they do not really need everything they ask for.

Do they need your home phone number? Could you use a separate bank account with no overdraft facility to receive your monthly pay, transferring it immediately to your normal current account? This way, even if someone untrustworthy gets hold of the details, they will have only a minimal opportunity to steal any money.

A good way to safeguard your privacy is by keeping your business and private lives separate, for example by not using telephone or Internet banking from your desk at work.

Obligations Regarding the Privacy of Others

If you need to enter, process, refer to, modify or transfer details relating to living people as part of your job, then you need some degree of understanding of the Data Protection Act. If your employer hasn’t already provided you with training about the Act, then you should ask to attend a course. It is in their interests to ensure that all their workers are complying with the legislation, and a necessary part of this is training.

You have a fundamental right to privacy. So do the other employees whose records are used by human resources and payroll. So do customers whose data is entered and used by sales, marketing and other departments. You have a duty to look after other people’s personal information just as your peers in organisations you have dealings with have an obligation to do the same for yours.

Your responsibilities under the key principles of the Data Protection Act with respect to personal information are, broadly speaking, as follows:

  • to use it only for the specific purpose for which it was collected
  • to keep it confidential
  • to keep it no longer than necessary
  • to ensure it is not transferred outside the European Economic Area
  • to make sure it is adequately secured
  • to allow individuals access to details held about them
  • to ensure your organisation is registered with the Information Commissioner

If you abide by these principles, you will be complying with the legislation. This will defend you and your company against fines, and will protect the people you do business with. Your customers are one of your business’s greatest assets, so you have a duty to keep them happy so they remain loyal; this can be achieved in part by making sure you respect and honour their expectations of privacy.

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I have recently been dismissed on medical grounds. I am appealing the decision and have a hearing next week.My employer instructed another employee to hand deliver documents relating to the hearing. I am not at all happy that my address has been divulged to that person or that the documents they were given contain personal medical details. Where do I stand and is there anything I can do?
JC - 3-May-19 @ 12:45 PM
@Bak2it - it's school property. So, yes, of course your employer had a right to see what was in the cupboard if you were away from the workplace.
AH - 23-Oct-17 @ 3:01 PM
Hi, last week I returned to work after being off since June 2017. I work at a school, based in a classroom used only by me. The cupboard I had in the room was kept padlocked and contained resources e.g. pens, paper etc. Since returning I have found the cupboard is now relocated and items left in a heap on the floor in the classroom. Amongst the resources were items I had purchased to assist in teaching. It seems that everything that was wanted has been taken and left me empty folders, broken pens etc. Does my employer have the right to remove a padlock that I had purchased? Can I claim for resources missing? Thanks
Bak2it - 23-Oct-17 @ 1:33 AM
I work in a small office of 50 or less employees total. The office its self has 10 or less at any given time. Each person has a desk and the company’s two owners work on the premises as our bosses. I have one day a week, I have epilepsy and an autistic son, which they are aware of, and I must make one weekday available for our appointments and such. When I come back from my day off, someone has gone through my desk, papers, etc. Even the drawer I keep my personal things in. Personal things, like Rx medication that I must take during the work day! NOTHING work related is in this drawer, but it does not have a lock on and they know that it contains my thing. When I started it was empty for this reason?Do they have a right, since the desk belongs to them, to go through these things? I have to leave the medication there because I have to take it multiple times a day and I have somewhat of a memory issue from having seizures and concussions from hitting my head and would forget to take the medication, or bring it with me otherwise. I’ve noticed that someone has been getting into the Ibupurin and Aleve I keep for my headaches, so I’m worried they get into my Rx…
CRABBY - 15-Sep-17 @ 6:22 PM
Someone I know who works in a nursery with children told their manager that they had just been told that their boyfriend has rented a room in his house to someone who will be keeping drugs there. They told their manager because they were shocked and worried about this. They do not live with their boyfriend a do not do drugs at all. The manager told the senior member of staff and my friend has been suspended. She finished iwith the boyfriend immediately but has been suspended from work. Can she be sacked for this, even though she did the right thing in confiding in her manager
Slim - 17-Jan-17 @ 11:18 PM
My company is closing down our branch and hence, my position becomes redundant. My company / boss values my work and knowledge. Even before I know , he went ahead to discuss to discuss my future employment with another company who tends to be our distributor. I am sure he divulged my salary details as well to the other company. Company says that this was done in good intention but to me this is serious breach of my right to go about new job search. This way my negotiating power or demand has been greatly jeopardised. Kindly advice what kind of compensation I can ask for this breach from my employer.
Viv - 6-Sep-14 @ 4:15 AM
I know that my boss is blind copying emails between us to other members of staff but my firm won't tell me who else has seen the emails even though some of them are about personal issues of mine. How does the law stand on my insisting on knowing who else has seen them?
brenda - 27-Jul-12 @ 10:22 PM
My manager asked, told us to lock our cell phones in our lockers on the lower level, as I work in a bank and have acamara on me all day. I keep my.cell off and locked in my drawer. I feel safer knowing its there if I need it. As in any work or school, I feel if something happens I can be in contact with lovedones, I feel that yes.it should be off in a work place, and in a drawer. But its againsty rights to have it so.far away.
dee - 7-Jul-12 @ 1:06 PM
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