I’m hoping you can help me with something. I’ve been in HR for a long time but have never come across a situation like our owners are currently doing.

They have two calendars out in the open (one for office staff and one for our laborers). Anyone from vendors, customers, etc. can see it. They are using those calendars to mark down any time a person is late, sick, family emergency, vacation, funeral, doesn’t show up for shift, etc. I’ve had several complaints from employees that it’s a violation of their privacy, and they don’t want it displayed. I’ve never come across this before because any other company I have worked for would never do something like this. I can’t find anything that would prove it is a true violation of the employee’s privacy and illegal, other than in my eyes it’s immoral on the part of the owners of our company. I do agree with our staff that it is an invasion of privacy.

What are your thoughts?

Well, I’m probably the wrong person to come to, because while I believe in privacy, I don’t think there is much privacy involved in a calendar that shows who is in or out of the office. It’s not a big secret, and it’s helpful. “Where’s Bob? I can’t find him. Oh, let me check the calendar. Yep, he’s out on vacation today!”

Now, everyplace I’ve worked had something like this, except electronic. If you were going to be out for the day, you’d put it on the shared departmental calendar and put an out of office notice on your email. Since you mentioned you have laborers, it’s likely that not everyone has a company email account, so it makes sense to have it on paper. That way, anyone who wants to reach you knows that you’re not in the office. And there’s a record if a question comes up later: “Who screwed up this project? Well, it wasn’t Jane, because she was at a funeral on June 18.”

I guess I can’t get worked up about people knowing who is in and out of the office. Likewise, I can’t get worked out up about noting late arrival times–for the same reason.

I do find it weird that this is in a location where clients/guests can see it. It would make more sense to have it in a break room or something.

Now, if the calendar says “Bill, out due to toenail fungus,” that’s a bit much because all anyone needs to know is that Bill is out of the office. But, it does make sense to put, “Mandy, maternity leave” because you know that Mandy won’t be in tomorrow, but Bill most likely will be.

So, if people are upset about this, I suggest you start with removing the reason for the absence. Then the practical reason is fulfilled, and nobody’s privacy is violated. After all, it’s obvious that you’re not in the office if you’re, you know, not there. Then stop and think about why it bothers you so much. Ask others why, directly, they find it bothersome. There might be a reason I’m not seeing. (Heaven knows, that’s happened before and will happen again!)

As for violating a law, I can’t think of why it would. The only thing that would come close is a HIPAA violation if your company is subject to HIPAA (it’s probably not) and the reason for health-related absences are included.



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13 thoughts on “Posting Absences

  1. Well, maybe it’s because they explicity say why people are absent. Maybe they don’t want other people to know about their medical appointments. And if neighbourghs prone to goship can see that you have had 3 visits to the doctor, there’s no telling what story that can become… But it’s just a guess.

  2. I get having the calendars up to mark the absences (though the SPECIFIC medical reason should never be displayed!). But having them out where customers can see it is a step too far. (I know vendors may sometimes come into back office areas, so keeping ALL vendors from seeing such may be problematic.) It may not be against any laws, but it’s certainly against common decency.

    And why would the owners want customers to be able to see that kind of information? If I was a customer coming in and saw that 3 laborers were consistently late/sick during a month, I might not want to give that company my business because I would worry about being able to depend on them!

    1. I’m wondering if perhaps it’s the sort of business that doesn’t have a back office area where customers/vendors don’t go. What comes to mind is most of the independent auto mechanics I’ve used but I’m sure I’ve seen it at other businesses as well- they generally have a small office area where customers provide information , drop off keys and pay but there doesn’t seem to be any other office space.

  3. EHRL — I would agree with you. Many organizations have such a posting so that at a glance, you can see who is in and who is not. Its not, however, something that should be posted anywhere except where employees can see/have access to it. I don’t get why it would show lates, no shows, etc. that should be record keeping within HR or by the manager.

    I would suggest the the OP talk to Management to get a better understanding on why it contains all the information is does? What is the purpose? If for information for the rest of the organization, then suggest the reasons be removed — if public shaming then you have another issue!

  4. I’ve done a little casual research into HIPPA. I’m not a lawyer but it seems to me it’s at least POSSIBLE that an employer, especially if they provide or subsidize health insurance, may be subject to HIPPA laws.

    Also, spreading around people’s medical information could leave the employer open to charges of unfairness of various sorts. There was a recent well-publicized case of a woman whose unborn child died in utero and she had to have an abortion. For some reason her male boss told her co-workers why she was out for a few days. The woman ended up leaving the company over the fallout from the gossip.

  5. Agree with Tiggergarden. Knowing who is scheduled to be late or out is useful. I worked at a place where a lot of people traveled and we started writing on our glass doors with dry erase markers “so and so in offce xyz through the 4th” so folks would know to use cell or email to find us. I can’t imagine why you would write down attendance infractions other than to embarrass somebody so it seems like that should not be posted, not because it’s illegal per se but because it’s poor form.

  6. This public posting could impact safety and
    security for employees’ homes and property.
    You make sure that an overflowing mailbox at your house won’t indicate to potential burglars that you’re away, so it seems unwise to have this posting make that information
    available to just anybody. (It’s easy for people
    to obtain home addresses.) A local company experienced
    theft that turned out to be done by temporary workers
    hired by the after-hours cleaning crew, who had access to
    material while they were in the building unsupervised
    at night. There are many ways to give this information to
    people who have a need to know it, without making it public.

  7. It almost sounds like they are using it as an attendance tracker, not just as a calendar showing when people are planning to be out of the office. If they are marking down when people are late our out unexpected in retrospect, rather than in advance to let people know when someone is planning to be out, as a way to track attendance or shame people, that is not appropriate. “Oh, Mark was late an hour again today, let’s put that on the calendar!” That is what a personnel file is for, not a public calendar.

    I also agree with putting that someone will be out of the office, but not necessarily the reason why. This could lead to crime if this calendar is exposed to the public, and everyone, including vendors, knows that Julia is in Hawaii, and her house is vacant for a week. No one needs to know that. Out of the office is good enough.

  8. EHL is right that most companies are not going to be subject to HIPAA violations unless it is a company that provides healthcare to its employees. But, the sharing of medical information is a violation of the ADA. A company that publically posts that an employee is having heart surgery today has committed a per se violation of the ADA.

  9. The Outlook email calendar gives you the option to make your schedule post private. People can note that the time is blocked off but not the reason for it. Most folks at my work put “Private appointment” on things they don’t want others to see.

    But if someone is writing everything on a big board, employees don’t have that option. I think it’s fine to note when people are going to be gone, but the entire place (and clients) don’t necessarily need to know why.

  10. I agree that it’s ok to list who is in and who is out. Our office is going through the same thing, staff don’t want the reason a person is out listed on the shared calendar. We do list the range a person is out and the day they will return. No reason to put maternity leave, just out 10/1 – 10/31, Returning on 10/31 is all that anyone needs to know. I don’t want people to know if I am the dentist, home with a sick child or at my Dad’s Chemo therapy/FMLA. I certainly don’t want customers to know any of this and if away from home on vacation! It’s none of anyone’s business except my direct supervisor who approved the leave.

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