-5

I recently recieved a letter about a personnel problem, I want to show this to a friend who might be able to advise me on response, is this unethical? The sender does not know about me doing this, and it would all be anonymous. I can trust the friend not to be indescreet. I don't want to ask the sender if I can help it, as that will take days.

13
  • A friend, or a co-worker with you both in the HR department and the letter being related to that company, or a lawyer, or...?
    – keshlam
    Aug 16, 2023 at 21:18
  • 1
    What would your answer be if you were the sender?
    – joeqwerty
    Aug 16, 2023 at 22:01
  • @Chenmunka I'd check that. May or may not be. Aug 17, 2023 at 0:40
  • 1
    If it's a personnel problem, you should discuss it with HR. Aug 17, 2023 at 3:25
  • @Chenmunka As long as you don't publish the letter GDPR doesn't apply. And showing something to a friend isn't publishing
    – Niqql
    Aug 17, 2023 at 8:56

3 Answers 3

4

If you are the intended recipient of the Email/Letter then the answer is 'Maybe'.

And the Maybe entirely depends on the context.

Now, bearing in mind, since this is about a personnel problem we are definitely in the realms of Confidential information.

Let's give two scenarios:

Showing the email/letter to your mate Gary at the Pub. Whilst it is entirely possible to do this, Afterall Gary is a stand-up bloke who can keep his mouth firmly shut and one could say 'no harm, no foul' - this is absolutely unethical and I would advise against it.

However, Your mate Gary at the Pub is a Lawyer who your company has a business relationship with (maybe on a retainer, may have just engaged previously for work) and you show the email/letter for a legitimate reason such as getting an initial Legal opinion. Those of a particularly nit-picky nature may say that without a contract and an exchange of payment, this is still wrong, but I'm putting that to the side for a moment.

In this scenario, you have a legitimate reason for it from someone who has genuine expertise in a field, this is generally acceptable.

Now - I'm not sure on the Legal aspect per se (I'm not a lawyer) - but Confidential information can only be passed on with authorization, in the case of it being a Personnel issue, the Authorization is from within the Business. If you were discussing it with say a business Mentor who was within the business, then this would probably be fine. But if it was an outside entity, probably not.

I mentioned above about the nitpicking over engaging with an outside party without a contract and payment - the above is where that might come in.

In short - can you do it: probably. Should you do it? Probably not unless the person you wish to share it with has a legitimate reason for being consulted as an expert.

There is another option, however.

Don't show them the letter. Abstract out all the confidential info and then ask for their opinion. You see that all the time here on Workplace SE:

e.g. "I have an employee who keeps doing XYZ, what should I do?" So long as XYZ isn't personally identifiable, then that's fine. Sometimes you'll see questions where people state they can't give more detail as it might cross that line.

This is what I would strongly suggest doing, rather than showing the letter.

1

If there is any way you can ask the sender for permission, ask the sender for permission. If that means you have to wait a few days, wait a few days; if it was that critical, they would be pounding on your door rather than (or in addition to) sending a letter, making a phone call, etc.

And frankly, the fact that you've stopped to ask us strongly suggests that you know you shouldn't share it without permission.

The question isn't whether you trust your friend. It's whether the sender trusts your friend. Ask them.

0

There is no hard and fast answer to your question and this would very much have to be read in context of the contents of the letter and the relationship of your friend to you and the company. It also would be helpful to know where in the world you are based since confidentiality issues are different in each country or in some cases part of a country.

if you were in the UK and you had received a formal letter from your employer notifying you of some alleged breach of your duties and responsibilities which is then a notification that the company intends to open up a disciplinary process then your employer would have a legal obligation to also include details of the disciplinary process and document your rights to discuss the matter with a union representative if you are a member of a union or a co-worker who agrees to act as your friend and witness during the disciplinary process. That co-worker would need to consent to the generalities of the the disciplinary process and their willingness to help you long before they were just shown the disciplinary letter. The co-worker (and union official) would have to comply with the company's confidentiality and disciplinary processes and consent to acting in confidence and not to disclose contents of any disciplinary letters you have received to other co-workers or your boss. In the UK, it is perfectly legal for you to discuss the contents of a disciplinary letter where you are the one being disciplined for example within the confines of company confidentiality.

In the absence of a union representative or co-worker consenting to helping you in an informal way, you should not show or disclose the contents of such a disciplinary letter where you are one being disciplined, but you DO have the right to get professional advice from a lawyer or mediation service who might charge for their advice or a knowledgeable friend who does not work for your employer but can give you advice on how to respond to such a letter. In UK legal terms, such a friend is referred to as a Mackenzie Friend who in most cases should be trusted to not discuss with others, the minutiae of any documents they see or help you write a response to a letter.

So, if the letter you refer to in your question is a disciplinary letter where you and only you are the target of the disciplinary action, you would be advised to first read your company's documented disciplinary procedure and discuss the generality of the matter with an outside advisory service or a Mackenzie Friend before showing them any actual letters.

However, if the letter/email you have received is one relating to other people you work with, work for or are your subordinates, you have no right to discuss such matters with anyone else other than your boss or HR since it does not immediately and directly affect you and it is not you that is being disciplined for example. You have a duty of confidentiality as probably documented in your Company's Staff Handbook and your Terms and Conditions of Employment.

Generally speaking, if you disclose confidential details of a letter you have become privy to concerning matters other than you being the sole target of disciplinary action, you could be disciplined for disclosing the contents of such a letter to others, in or outside the company.

I would imagine that this approach would hold true in any industrialised country and if you require clarification, even in the matter of your own disciplinary process, you would be advised to notify your HR department of your wish to discuss this letter with an outside advisor or Mackenzie Friend. That way, you are protecting yourself from further action the company might take against you under their confidentiality rules but they would have to consent to you being able to seek external advice since denying that right would be contrary to natural justice.

So, as an example, if you want to show a friend a letter where say, your employers intend to close down a factory on the other side of the country that does not impact on your own employment, you must NOT disclose this information without written approval from the company. if it WAS to affect your employment with the company, then you have a general right to seek external advice from other parties.

I trust this helps you.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .