Top secret: Managing confidentiality when an employee works from home

Working from home

Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data has revealed the number of Australians regularly working from home is increasing. A number of reasons were given as to why people worked from home:

  • Catching up on workloads (42.41%)
  • Wanted home office/no overheads (21.04%)
  • Flexible working arrangements (12.64%)
  • Childcare family considerations (4.35%)
  • Conditions of employment (7.71%)
  • To operate a firm (3.36%)
  • Other (8.48%)

Regardless of the reason an employee works from home, confidentiality must be managed through an appropriate policy that addresses situations that are likely to arise both in and outside the workplace.

Think about the following situations:

  • A HR manager is recruiting for a new position and they take home applicant details and pre-employment medical examination results to review. The HR manager has left the paper work on the coffee table and has an unexpected visitor who starts reading the applications and makes comments on the applicants who have applied for the job.
  • An accountant who travels over an hour on the train to and from work decides to review client financial data on the train. The accountant sits next to a person on the train who happens to work for a competitor of his client. The commuter has a few glances over at the financial data, which he could use for his own work.
  • A new employee, eager to impress her employer takes work home. Her flatmate notices a new product is being launched and is so excited that she posts about it on social media (without the client’s or flatmate’s permission).

Employers and employees need to be mindful of confidentiality issues that arise when a decision to made to take or do work outside of the workplace.

Employers should make sure they have a policy in place addressing the following issues:

  • What work can and cannot be outside of the workplace/taken home;
  • If permission must be obtained from the appropriate manager before taking work outside of the workplace;
  • The required levels of security for the confidential information (e.g. locked up in the study room, not out on display, not read on public transport or other public places etc.);
  • Employer/employee responsibilities with respect to managing confidential information (including password access on electronic devices such as iPhones, iPads and laptops);
  • Protocols for employee’s accessing and/or doing work in a public place such as a cafe, airport and train station; and
  • A process to assess whether there is a real business need for the employee to take the work outside of the workplace.

For employers, it is important that there is a policy about the protection of confidential information – especially for work taken away from the workplace. Policy implementation, accompanied with training and explaining the importance of confidential information to employees, will minimise the risk of the confidential information being misused inappropriately or confidentiality being breached.

Shane Koelmeyer is a director of specialist law firm Workplace Law

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