Are you wondering how to maintain client confidentiality? Client confidentiality is an essential part of business ethics. Serious consequences may occur when there is a breach of trust from disclosing secure information. Client confidentiality plays a significant role for professionals, such as psychiatrists, attorneys, and health care workers. Fortunately, there are several measures you can take in order to protect your clients' confidentiality.

Why Is Confidentiality Significant?

Today's workplace has become highly litigious and increasingly competitive, making confidentiality an important part of doing business. Client confidentiality plays a significant role in business ethics. Institutions and individuals are expected to prevent private information from reaching third parties. Failing to properly protect and secure confidential information may lead to losing both current and future clients.

When private information falls into the wrong hands, it may be used to perpetrate illegal activities, such as discrimination or fraud. Defending these lawsuits can be extremely expensive for employers. Several states have passed laws that protect the confidentiality of particular workplace information. Disclosing sensitive management and employee information can cause significant damage to a company, including:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Increased expenses
  • Loss of employee loyalty, trust, and confidence

Management Information

Confidential management information refers to business information that is typically not known to the public and is not available to competitors, except through improper or illegal means. While the disclosure of management information is not illegal, it can negatively impact the workplace. Some examples may include discussions regarding:

  • Employee termination
  • Workplace investigations of employee misconduct
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Impending layoffs
  • Employee relations issues

In the business world, confidential business information may also be known as trade secrets or proprietary information. Some common example of trade secrets include:

  • Business plans
  • Financial data
  • Manufacturing methods and processes, such as:
    • Forecasts and budgets
    • Client and customer lists
    • Data compilation
    • Supplier lists
    • Computer programs
    • Employee or membership lists
    • Ingredient recipes and formulas

Remember, trade secrets don't refer to any information a company may post on its website, freely offer to others outside of the business, or voluntarily provide to potential customers.

Employee Information

The majority of states have passed laws that regulate the disposal and confidentiality of personal identifying information. This includes:

  • Home address
  • Telephone number
  • Social Security number
  • Driver‘s license number
  • Internet identification name and password
  • Email address
  • Surname before marriage

In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. This legislation requires all employee disability and medical information to be stored confidentially, with access to personal information strictly on a need-to-know basis. For example, a supervisor may need to know about an employee's work restrictions so any reasonable modifications can be made, or safety personnel may need to be aware of an employee's health needs in the case of a medical emergency.

In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) began regulating health care workers' use and disclosure of health information that was individually identifiable. This is also known as protected health information.

Finally, the immigration-related Form I-9 must be kept confidential. Accidental disclosure of the information (e.g., age, national origin) may cause discrimination allegations from other employees.

How to Better Protect Confidential Information

Companies should proactively take steps to ensure their confidentiality policies are in compliance with state law. It is recommended that privacy policies be displayed in an office for all to see. Corporations may want to include the following policies:

  • Separate I-9s and employee medical information
  • Store confidential information in locked file cabinets
  • Encrypt all confidential electronic information with firewalls and passwords
  • Employees should keep their desks clear of any confidential information
  • Employees should keep their computer monitors clear of any confidential information
  • Make sure to mark confidential information as confidential
  • Confidential information should be disposed of properly
  • Employees should not discuss confidential information in public places
  • Employees should not use unencrypted email to transmit controversial or sensitive information
  • Limit the amount of unnecessary confidential client data
  • Use software programs to wipe confidential data off old computers

A confidentiality policy should describe the level of privacy employees should expect from their own personal property. However, simply adopting a written privacy policy is often not enough. Offering employee education may help a company‘s confidentiality policy be more transparent and effective. Most organizations include training on privacy policies and procedures as part of the orientation process.

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