There comes a time (or several) in every HR Professionals life where they will be asked to breach confidentiality. Sometimes it comes because management thinks they “own” you and so you can give them any information they ask for (and sadly, some HR Professionals are owned by management), other times it comes because employees feel you know the secrets of the organization and so they try to get information from you. It is imperative that the HR Professional know where their own boundaries are and what they feel is ethical and what is not.
For me one key moment came when my company asked me to give up the names of employees who came to see me. They wanted a list of names as well as the nature of their visit….and I refused. Now I get the importance of understanding the pulse of your company and recognizing where the pain points are so I have no problem giving them that information, but giving names crosses a different boundary. To me, employees at all levels of the organization must be allowed a safe place, and have a right to expect confidentiality. There are times when, legally, I need to speak on their issues or investigate and I make these times clear to the employees but even then, I handle it with as much discretion as possible. One of the critical elements that makes a HR Professional successful is that they have the trust of the employee base – all levels, including executives. So I refused to give them the list choosing instead to stay true to my ethics and not erode the trust I had with those who came to me for help. And the company chose to release me. Tough conclusion? I suppose. But for me, I know that I did not compromise my own character, my own ethics, and I can live with that.