Privacy in the Workplace - Use an HRIS

Privacy. We all have a good idea of what the word means and we all attribute significant importance to the concept. As information technology has evolved, so has our focus on doing more to protect information about ourselves we wish to remain confidential. Data storage is now both omnipresent and sophisticated, providing unprecedented access to our personal information. We state that protecting data will bolster your business.

Protecting the privacy of personal information is more difficult than ever. Information Technology and legislation are constantly being introduced in an effort to better safeguard our privacy. If you are a Human Resources professional, you know the challenges associated with the protection of information of your employees, their families (as well as that of job applicants whom you did not hire). You are also, no doubt, aware of the potential downside associated with failing to meet workplace privacy challenges.

U.S privacy law is codified in federal and state statutes and has its foundation in both the common law and the U.S. Constitution. Although initially intended to protect the individual from invasion by an agent of the government, the scope of such legislation today addresses a more global "invasion of privacy", whether it be by employers, corporations, financial institutions or other individuals. As an employer, you are subject to, among other laws: 

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) - Requires consent from job applicant to use third party to do credit/background check;
• Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT);
• Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) - Prohibits any and all questions that may lead to the disclosure of the genetic information of an individual;
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) - Protects the privacy of personal health information;
• Americans With Disabilities Act. 

One very effective way to help protect your employees' personal information is through the use of a Human Resources Information System (HRIS). An HRIS that is tailored to meet your specific H.R. document and record keeping needs provides you with the level of protection that ensures your employees you have done all you can to safeguard their personal information. (we think it just might save your hrASS!)

How does an HR system help to ensure the privacy of employees? First, it stores employee data in a secure and uniform fashion. Security is established because you control access to the information, by use of passwords, allowing you to monitor access and prevent any unintentional use or distribution of information.

Uniformity is generated by the automated nature of a well-designed HR information system. Specifically, all data is entered according to the format you have established, meaning that all entry fields have been reviewed and gather only information you are permitted by law to gather. No embarrassing or inappropriate information is recorded; there is none, therefore, to distribute. Files don't get lost and documents don't end up somewhere or with someone they don't belong.

Any HR system worth its salt includes automated updating to ensure compliance with federal and state laws and regulations. This component serves to keep your record keeping and reporting current and prevents those costly surprises that often arise from a lack of awareness of changes in any applicable law.

Finally, an HRIS doesn't hold a grudge or have an ego. In other words, because an automated system doesn't have a personality, it can't take any action based on human nature or emotion, either subconsciously or maliciously.

Using an HRIS to protect privacy = Providing peace of mind your employees deserve and compliance the law demands 

About the Author
Carolyn Sokol writes about issues that may affect small businesses such as human resources, HRMS, and HRM Software. She is a founder of and contributor to which both help match businesses to the right HR or Payroll Service provider for their particular needs.