3 Keys to Preventing Privacy Breaches

Oct 30, 2013

I’ve been working in HR for a long time now. Privacy is key to so many things we do. Not only in HR, but in our organizations. This has been drilled into my brain since my early years working in human resource information systems (HRIS). I was responsible for entering all salary increases, severance information, next review dates, performance review ratings, and the list goes on. I had to be on my toes and be aware of the data I entered, who I shared it with, and how I tracked the data. It was confidential. Period.

Today I was stunned. Five minutes before a team meeting, I read an email that contained my salary information. It was my most recent pay statement, sent to me in response to a question I had sent to payroll. However, the question was in regards to an employee I was trying to help and not myself. My salary information was shared with me, the person I was asking the question for, and my entire team. Yes, even those that report to me.

The original email was from an employee, asking about a particular deduction on their pay statement. They sent it to me and copied the HR team. I don’t have that information, so I summarized the need and forwarded it to payroll, copying the employee and my team, making sure everyone was on the same page. Unfortunately, the email was not read correctly and a response was rushed out. It was the wrong response.

So, while there’s nothing I can do now, I was reminded about how privacy can be breached through email and how to avoid privacy breaches when emailing.

Know Your Audience

When forwarding an email, be sure to summarize the email thread very clearly so the recipient is fully aware of the request. Typing FYI is not always enough. You may also consider changing the subject line to re-focus the context.We are in such a hurry to clear our inbox, emails get forwarded and context can be lost. You may be forwarding an email from HR to another department. Will they understand the context of the previous conversation threads?

Read the Email

Skimming saves time but we can lose so much of the message without realizing it. Take the time to read the email and answer accordingly. It’s our job to be thorough and efficient, especially when it involves personally identifiable information.

Who’s Who?

Have you looked at your “To” and “CC” headings? If not, you could be sending information to the wrong people. Just because those individuals were on the original email thread does not mean they are meant to be there or should be there any longer. Who are these people and what role do they play? If you don’t know who someone is simply ask. Before you forward, know who’s who.

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