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I'm part of a union that has sent out an optional survey to it's members. Some of the questions are intensely personal:

  1. what is your gender identity?
  2. what is your sexual orientation?
  3. what is nationality?
  4. what is your race or ethnicity?
  5. what mental health issues do you have?
  6. do you have any permanent disabilities?
  7. in the past 12 months have you been discriminated against?

Most of the questions give the option to check off the boxes that apply and another option to fill out information if none apply. Given the subjective nature of the questions, they give examples how to answer like for #4.

They claim it's to better provide supportive services and help with their collective bargaining ability. Most questions have the option "prefer not to answer".

What ramifications would answering such a survey have? Is it even legal to be asked this in the workplace? The survey is optional however they do provide a nice incentive to complete it. Though they never ask for any personal identifiable information directly, I think the link to the survey itself is uniquely identifiable (e.g. I am sent a survey with a unique number).

This was in a different industry but a long time ago I worked for a large company where management had the mentality it was really important never to give any more information than absolutely necessary. My manager even said he was thinking if it would be worse to give them the information of not answering an optional survey or just to answer it. Obviously these questions are extreme, but in general is it somehow dangerous to answer a workplace survey?

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  • Does this survey ask for your name or SSN or any info that could be used to personally identify you? I mean, I guess, in theory, there's your IP address, but if you answer this in the office, everyone might have the same IP address.
    – neubert
    Mar 4, 2021 at 12:46

2 Answers 2

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It's important to note that unions are not an extension of your employer. Any comments here that say your employer is required to do certain things do not inherently apply to your union.

In addition to that, it would probably be a breach of privacy if your union shared identifiable results with your employer.

A survey from your union is more likely to have your interests at heart, when compared to one coming from your employer.

I believe the incentive to answer the survey is probably slightly ethically questionable. The real incentive to answering such a survey is the knowledge that you are contributing to a data-set that your union will use to help unsure its members are well looked-after.

A lot of people feel like they can be more honest in an anonymous survey. The union can go to the company when noting systematic problems, or thematic problems, rather than specific instances of issues.

But you are under no obligation to answer.

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in general is it somehow dangerous to answer a workplace survey

No. Most surveys are harmless and well intended.

Is it even legal to be asked this in the workplace?

Yes

What ramifications would answering such a survey have?

Depends on the purpose of the survey. These type of questions are very common today. Here is why: many organizations and employers actually do care about diversity and fairness in their organization and do actively work on this. In order to find out what is your current state or if you are making progress you need some quantitative metrics. You can't assess racial bias in hiring if you don't know what the racial makeup of your org is and how it has changed over the last few years. In this case the ramification would be: "you help your organization to become more diverse and balanced".

Now it's also possible that this survey is done for nefarious reasons. It's unlikely since discriminating based on the answers would be highly illegal, but it's not impossible, so some assessment of the asker and their motives is advisable. Personally, I would have no problem answering this for any reasonable employer, but not for a Union (since I had extremely bad experience with them).

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