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We are a small department of 8 people within university context, but very independent. Yesterday, shortly after my employee evaluation with my boss, our secretary stepped into my office and said: "I read your employee evaluation, well done."

I was perplexed and said something general like "it was okay" and switched topics. I started working in this department 12 months ago and she is very nice to me. In our team we have a good atmosphere and have after work parties often and I invited her and other colleagues to dinner at my home a while ago. But I don't think she is allowed to read employee evaluations as a secretary and I don't feel comfortable when she does.

How to politely tell her that I'm not okay with this? If she wants to continue I can't stop her. She has access to our dossiers. I don't want to endanger our good relationship and team atmosphere. Therefore discussing this with my boss doesn't seem to be an option. Besides, she is going through a divorce and maybe it's best to ignore it?

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    I don't know exactly but I'm quite sure employee evaluation should be read only by superior and HR and her behaviour is a violation. I don't want to get her into trouble. – StandardNerd Apr 20 '18 at 7:58
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    Why don't you feel comfortable when she does that? I mean who cares? its small team im sure everybody knows performance of each others ... you can just see it, it's right in front of your eyes ... I really don't see how her looking at your performance review could endanger your atmosphere, I mean to be honest, I really doubt she even care or even remembered that document, maybe she was just bored and checked it out and won't even remember doing it 5 days from now – Veljko89 Apr 20 '18 at 8:47
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    As the accepted answer hints, the secretary may have been made to read your performance review by management - e.g. to copyedit it. If that's the case, she may be uncomfortable with that and feel that it is an invasion of your privacy, and her apparently casual mention of it may in fact be her conscientiously making sure that you are in the loop about who has access to your review and trying to get a gauge on whether you consider her access to be problematic. Or maybe not - but it's a possibility to consider before you risk going after the wrong party. – Mark Amery Apr 20 '18 at 9:59
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    "I don't think she is allowed to read employee evaluation as a secretary..." it's likely you are simply wrong. Secretaries are sort of like the secret service - they know everything. If you asked her Boss about the issue, Boss would very likely say "yes, of course she read it". It's likely you're just wrong. – Fattie Apr 20 '18 at 11:44
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    Really the idea that a secretary >wouldn't< read such a document is a bit whacky. It would be like accounting "not knowing" your salary. You know? – Fattie Apr 20 '18 at 11:45
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This is a difficult one since you are absolutely correct in that in an ideal world evaluations should only be read by superiors and by HR. Unfortunately we aren't living in an ideal world and the nature of secretary and admin type positions that they often come into contact with such documents and will sometimes even have to read them as part of doing their job (editing etc) but it's absolutely inappropriate for them to act on any information gained in this way and it's absolutely inappropriate for her to be discussing it with you.

Giving the benefit of the doubt it doesn't sound as if she had any nefarious intentions and was trying to be nice (if missing the point somewhat spectacularly) and unless you have other reasons to think she is a gossip or otherwise suspect she has poor ethics then I think it's unlikely that she is going to do anything with the information from your evaluation or go spreading it around to every one and their dog at the office so to be honest I'd probably just leave it there and not make a fuss.

If you see more concerning behaviors from her then it may be worth mentioning as supporting information but it's not really worth raising on it's own IMO.

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    "the nature of secretary and admin type positions that they often come into contact with such documents ... but it's absolutely inappropriate for them ... to be discussing it with you." - This seems illogical to me. If one of my colleagues' jobs involves reading sensitive personal information about me that I've otherwise been led to believe they don't have access to, then I want to know! Why would the secretary have any duty to conceal from the OP that she is being made to read his performance reviews (if that is indeed the case)? Many would argue the the opposite duty exists! – Mark Amery Apr 20 '18 at 9:54
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    @MarkAmery there is a really big difference between not discussing confidential material and concealing your contact with it. For example, in my current position I sometimes have to take actions on shipping data. I will not go to other people and say "what a nice choice of products you have, and I didn't know you moved!". If asked, I'll provide information that I acted on a package number 123456789, and provide log of actions if required. – Mołot Apr 20 '18 at 10:30
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    @MarkAmery: "that I've otherwise been led to believe they don't have access to" What led you to believe a secretary's job does not encompass copyediting correspondence? That's one of the main functions of this position. – pmf Apr 20 '18 at 10:47
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    @pmf "What led you to believe a secretary's job does not encompass copyediting correspondence?" - nothing. But the OP explicitly states "I don't think she is allowed to read employee evaluation as a secretary", so clearly he has come to believe, for some reason or other, that his company's secretary shouldn't be reading this particular correspondence. – Mark Amery Apr 20 '18 at 10:54
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    @Mołot - To be fair to this secretary, the comment was made between three individuals, where I will presume all had permission and authorization to the document. The author doesn't know for certain, the secretary isn't authorized to view the document. There is also a difference between praising somebody on ordering something and a performance review, the sectary, was clearly being friendly (i.e. due to the very small team). – Donald Apr 20 '18 at 17:19
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But I don't think she is allowed to read employee evaluations as a secretary and I don't feel comfortable when she does.

Your thinking in this regards is wrong. You should assume that a secretary is privy to all correspondences that her boss is part of. In fact you should assume that she sees more of his correspondences than he does.

Discussing it is another matter, but if it was only with you and you received a copy of it, I'd not consider that inappropriate.

  • "You should assume that a secretary is privy to all correspondences that her boss is part of. In fact you should assume that she sees more of his correspondences than he does." That's not the case in our department. She is not allowed to open letters addressed to my boss and for internal analog mailings we have special cover that prevent documents circulating around to be read by everyone. – StandardNerd Apr 23 '18 at 12:29

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