Privacy issues around words such as "Personal", "Private", "For the Eyes of Department Management Only", "Privileged" and other words requesting Privacy in communications are a very serious issue. It is incumbent upon managers in business, education, and industry today, to be very sensitive and forthright in their communications, and in response to privacy requests regarding communications from their employees. To be less than totally forthright can result in some very unsavory results from disenfranchised employees.

Let's face it. Management is about decisions, and decisions as to what you do with "Private" communications can have long ranging results. If the communications relates to discussions of harassment and/or sexual harassment, or other discrimination issues, some very difficult decisions must be made. As any investigation of these matters will result in multiple persons being made aware of the situation, it is probably best for the manager to stop the party divulging the information, and make them aware of the aspects of the process of investigating the claims which will likely not be supported in the concept of "privacy." Let the accuser make the choice, continue without privacy being assured, or decide not to continue with the statements being made.

While the issues of privacy in discussions of harassment and sexual harassment are quite clear, there are other areas of management communications much less clear, but still problematic. Matters relating to personnel issues might be one such case. An employee complaining about the actions of another employee, might request "privacy". The manager in this case should try to find other means of substantiating the claim without divulging the identity of the complainant. If this will not be possible, then another conversation with the complainant is indicated, in which you might indicate that a problem has been identified, but taking action on that problem will probably implicate the complainant as the one that divulged the issue. Then let the complainant decide whether "privacy" or "solving the problem" will be the course of events that best suit the complainant's needs.

In many other privacy matters, the singular choice should be to honor the request for Privacy. Totally!! Completely!! To do less than that could take several negative paths. Certainly the employee, whose "privacy" request has been abused, will seek ways to get even. Any practices of the agency or group that may be less than correct, or possibly even illegal, will make good means of getting even if the disenfranchised employee chooses. If it is in a case relating to any of the forms of discrimination, including harassment and sexual harassment, then abuse of the privacy issues, can easily be considered retaliation. One article I recently read indicated that retaliation cases are some of the easiest discrimination cases to win.

As a manager in Business, Education or Industry, take very serious consideration as to any and all decisions you make when "privacy" is an issue on the table.

About the Author:

Bill Barger Barger Specialties LLC

Information and resources on Harassment and Sexual Harassment are available through my web site at:

In his course work toward a Master's degree in Management, Mr. Barger took an interest in the teaching research and publication of information on Sexual Harassment. His web site deals with Harassment and Sexual Harassment issues.

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