Screening Assessments And Employee Confidentiality – A Word To Employers

printer Printer Friendly Version

Author David Towler
Date Published October 21, 2014

Confidential information should always be handled carefully. Every effort should always be made to keep private, personal information confidential. People expect that the details of their medical history, personal finances, employment history, salaries and etc. are kept private and/or only made available to those with the appropriate authorization to view them. Mistakes and errors in judgment are probably inevitable, but companies (or individuals) who fail to take the appropriate steps to ensure that private information stays private can find themselves in big trouble. Target, Home Depot, 4Chan and Twitter are recent examples of organizations that have encountered security breaches and had private information stolen or widely disseminated.

In today’s increasingly litigious environment, big mistakes can have big consequences.

While the media often focuses on the theft of customer information (i.e. passwords, credit card numbers, celebrity nudes, etc.) employers should not be complacent when it comes to similar breaches of personal information regarding their employees.

Recently an employee’s confidential psychological report was given to the woman’s employer, by accident. (See the article below.) “The three-page report included details about how much she drank, her sexual past, how many sexual partners she'd had, her mental health diagnosis, her prescriptions and how she felt about her employer.” As one might expect, this created some very serious problems for everyone involved, especially the employee.

Employers should be equally cautious when they’re hiring. The recruitment process also requires confidentially. Information that’s collected during the process should not be shared with anyone outside the organization. Clients often ask if they should share the results of a pre-screening or skills assessment with an applicant. The answer is usually, “No, you should not”. There are, of course, times when it is appropriate but only in certain circumstances.

Applicants are not entitled to see the results of an assessment that’s used as part of an overall hiring process, any more than they’d be entitled to sit in on the hiring committee’s discussions or know what their references said about them. There are several other good reasons for keeping this information private. No pre-screening assessment should serve as a ‘gateway’ to employment on its own. Tests should be used, in combination, with the resume, interview, reference checks and your own gut instinct. An assessment will either confirm what you think you already know about a person or identify things that you may have missed or which the applicant kept from you. Either way, they allow you to rate all applicants equally against the same criteria and compare apples to oranges. Sharing results often invites justification and debate about the reasons for the individual’s scores or responses and it puts you on the defensive. Applicants also are unlikely to have a good understanding of how the scores are generated, what they actually mean nor, most importantly, how they’re going to be used in the decision making process. For these reasons they should be kept confidential.

There are cases when it would be appropriate to share an assessment result with a candidate. When one is hiring from within one’s own organization it might be appropriate to share assessment results with both the successful and the unsuccessful candidates; if the results are presented in the manner of a personal growth opportunity. The results could then be used to point out areas where skills or aptitudes could be improved and help employees to see where they have opportunities for growth. The employees who you choose to share results with should also be cautioned to keep their results confidential, unless of course, the assessment has been taken as part of an group assessment to identify training needs or in team building exercises. General best practices dictate, however, that in most cases an applicant’s pre-screening assessment information should remain confidential and for HR’s eyes only, even if the candidate in question gets the job.


References

Yellowknife woman's psychiatric report lands in employer's hands - http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/yellowknife-woman-s-psychiatric-report-lands-in-employer-s-hands-1.2806853

David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering 35 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has over 2000 different product titles available. For more information, please contact us.

Re-printable with permission.