4 Ways To Fight Back When a Coworker Violates Your Privacy at Work

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April 25, 2024 at 2:0AM UTC

“I feel like my privacy was violated,” one anonymous Fairygodboss community member wrote of a recent workplace situation.

Their company owner had revealed to their coworker what they pay out of pocket for the employer-sponsored health insurance — in a place where many of their other coworkers could hear.

When someone at work violates your privacy — whether that’s a violation of confidentiality or making comments about your social media — it can be difficult to understand what to do, let alone how you should proceed in your working relationship. Here are a few steps to taking action and fighting back.

Understand the nature of the violation.

“Privacy” at work can mean different things to different companies. Before you take any action, it’s critical to understand your specific company guidelines and the laws of the state you work in. 

For example, you may believe that your employer doesn’t have the right to invade your social media pages and punish you for comments you’re making online; however, at some companies, this circumstance may actually be included in their company handbook. In some states, if you’re an at-will employee, social media comments like these can even be fair grounds for termination.

Review any employee handbooks and guidelines you’ve signed and received, as well as any applicable state and federal laws. 

Consider having a conversation with the person who violated your privacy.

In this Fairygodboss member’s case, the company owner might not have been aware of the violation they committed. Other Fairygodboss members advised them to speak with the owner directly and make the situation known.

“Not knowing what your relationship is with the owner, or what the fall out is depends on your next step,” wrote Robin Finell. “If you are comfortable, please inquire as to why this took place and indicate that you were uncomfortable with your info being shared. This has to be stressful and worrisome.”

“Be a better person than the owner and pull them to one side and say that not only did you hear them discussing your private information with a stranger, but everyone else in the office did too,” wrote Liz Mines. “And that you're not happy with your personal details being shared in such a way.”

Document as much as you’re able to.

If you think the invasion of privacy is worth legal action, you may decide to skip a conversation and move to gathering your case. Start by documenting all information you have on the situation. Any documentation of conversations and actions is important for acting on your case.

Seek legal help.

Speaking to an attorney or an employment lawyer can help you further understand the nature of the situation and what legal courses of action are available to you. This is where the documentation comes in — showing your lawyer any evidence you’ve gathered can help them help you move forward with your case.

“When bringing a lawsuit against your employer, the court looks at factors like the nature of the intrusion and the effect of the privacy invasion,” according to Senior Legal Writer Joseph Fawbush, Esq. “Typically, an employee must suffer a highly offensive invasion of privacy, or there must be long-term distress or other forms of consequences as a result of the invasion.”

Violations of privacy at work aren’t just stressful — they can have a real impact on your work life and success in your role. Understanding the nature of the violation is the most important step; once you’ve done so, you can take the right course of action to address it.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for someone who suspects their privacy has been violated at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.

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