Under confidentiality, you are obligated to keep certain information secret. The employees of a company or organization are generally speaking obligated to confidentiality.
What is confidentiality?
When handling private information in the course of your job, you are obligated to confidentiality. This prohibits you from sharing or using confidential information about circumstances that do not concern yourself.
Even though the term is most commonly used in the public and medical sector, generally most employees are subject to confidentiality. This means, that you are prohibited from sharing any information you learn through your work with others or taking advantage of them in your private life. This way, your own private information is protected from being shared by your superiors or colleagues.
Confidentiality is valid for three years after leaving a job. You are never allowed to share information of a private nature.
Your confidentiality is not all-encompassing. When given the power of attorney by the person the information belongs to as well as your employer, you are free to share it. Doctors and healthcare professionals can also be obligated to share information with authorities concerning previous crimes or when a patient seeks welfare benefits due to their health, such as sick pay.
Who is obligated to confidentiality?
Confidentiality applies to everyone in public service or employ. Employees of private companies also have to follow confidentiality in accordance with the laws on marketing practices and legal certainty.
Confidentiality therefore applies for all employees, public and private, as well as members of the board of directors.
What information is covered by confidentiality?
It can vary, which information is considered confidential.
All information concerning essential public or private interest is usually covered by confidentiality.
That kind of information can be divided into three categories: sensible personal information, confidential information and business information.
Sensible personal information
Sensible personal information applies to private affairs that are not publicly accessible. In this case, confidentiality is usually very extensive and restrictive.
Sensible personal information can be:
- Race or ethnicity
- Political, religious or philosophical belief
- Membership in a union
- Genetic or biometric data
- State of health
- Sexual orientation and preference
- Criminal offenses
- Social problems
Confidential information is all information about a person’s marital status, financial and tax-related circumstances.
Information is considered confidential if it is necessary to keep them secret for private interests. In the public sector, confidentiality extends to public interest as well.
As an employee you are often subject to confidentiality as well. This extends to information about your employer and customers.
Confidentiality in private companies includes typical business secrets, for example:
- The company’s financial situation
- Customer database
- Customer relations
- Documents for internal use
Confidentiality and the Information Access Law
Confidentiality in the public sector may conflict with the Information Access Law. This is because confidentiality obligates employees to keep certain information secret, whereas the Information Access Law gives private citizens and journalists the option to request access to the files for all public affairs.
An individual requesting access can however only be granted access to information regarding themselves or otherwise already available to the public.
Decision making in the public sector is especially protected. This means, that personal notes or incomplete material regarding case-handling is still covered by confidentiality.
Breach of confidentiality
A breach of confidentiality can have serious consequences. For employees in the private sector, this is usually grounds for immediate termination. Whether that is the case, is generally specified in the employment contract.
For employees in the public sector and others, it can furthermore lead to compensation claims, fines or a prison sentence. The extent of the punishment is assessed on a case by case basis.
The reason for a breach of confidentiality being more problematic is that it is covered by penal law. This also applies to employees in the private sector that have completed work in the course of an agreement with a public authority. For doctors, lawyers and priests, confidentiality weighs heavier than common witness duty.
Breaching confidentiality can be allowed in certain cases, when one does so to protect public interest, their own or others interest. That is to say, if you have information regarding serious crimes, it can be justified to share these with the police.