Privacy Issues on Employers Forum

[font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 01-21-03 AT 04:59PM (CST)[/font][p]We have had a few complaints from forum members about employees posting on Employers Forum, and just last week, an employee found the discussion board and posted a reply to her manager who had outlined on the forum a highly sticky situation involving this very employee.

The forum is free and anyone can register for it - we've kept it that way because we felt it was the best way to build a good community of HR professionals - an open, free community that belongs to YOU. We've also left it so that anyone may read the forum posts before registering so they get to know the community before posting.

Here are the cons of having the forum set up this way:

- ANYONE (including employees if they find the website) can read the posts on the forum, so if you're posting facts about a specific situation, your privacy is not protected.

- ANYONE can register for the forum and post questions (although we do monitor the posts), so we occasionally end up with employees posting on the forum.

We are willing to restrict the forum to better protect your privacy but would like your input on how to do so. Here are a few ideas for starters:

[u][b]Option #1 - VERY RESTRICTIVE[/b][/u]
Restrict reading and posting on the the forum to only those who have bought an HR product (State Employment Law Letter, HR Quick List, HR Frontline, etc.) from us.

[b]PRO:[/b] Helps ensure that virtually all the forum members are indeed an employer or in the HR field.

[b]CON:[/b] Will fragment the HR community on the forum unless most of the active members who are registered for free decide to buy an HR product.

[u][b]Option #2 - SOMEWHAT RESTRICTIVE[/b][/u]
Make only the subject lines of posts viewable (not the actual text of the threads) until after you register. Restrict registration to those who pick an appropriate title - like HR professional, employment law attorney, HR consultant, company owner.

[b]PRO:[/b] Makes it more difficult for employees to see what is being discussed on the forum and may deter them from registering and reading the discussions. We can try to weed out inappropriate registrants in the registration process.

[b]CON:[/b] This also becomes a deterrent for HR professionals to register if they are unable to first view the discussions in progress and feel comfortable about registering. Also, if an employee is bound and determined to register, they could get around this by figuring out the process by which we weed out inappropriate registrants and re-register using "appropriate" measures.

[u][b]Option #3 - NOT RESTRICTIVE[/b][/u]
Leave the forum the way it is and make a more prominent warning that this IS a public forum and you should be careful about the facts you post.

I'd like to know your thoughts on the situation in light of the pros and cons listed above. Do you have any other ideas?

Christy Reeder
Website Managing Editor


  • 55 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I guess I just always assumed (see what happens when you assume?) that those of us participating in the forum had all subscribed to our state's labor letter or purchased a product -- oops! I didn't realize that it was completely free.

    Although I like the restrictive aspect of making sure you have bona fide employers and HR representatives here, I wonder what it would do to the complexion of the forum. It's a rather gregarious, opinionated and seemingly experienced bunch of folks and I'd hate to see that screwed up!

    As the other guy would say,

    my two cents worth

  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 01-21-03 AT 04:01PM (CST)[/font][p]Christy: This may be the toughest decision you've had since you decided whether to name your new baby Margaret or Don. Really, this is a tough one. Reminds me of our community HR Group that was infiltrated several years back by a few dozen attorneys and reps of temp agencies. The group let them in and they are there for only one reason, to line their pockets. Now they have a captive audience to glad-hand with every time we meet and we cannot discuss any type of personnel needs or labor law issues without them nosing in. In one way I wish we could exclude totally all these peeping toms. We can see dozens and dozens of them logged on all day long by looking to see whose logged on. Their ID appears as 'guest' which simply means nonpaying viewer. I wonder if any of them ever join. On the other hand, part of your company's business is to attract paid memberships and we all understand that. I hate to suggest excluding anyone at all in hopes that peripheral people, perhaps outside HR, will join in and contribute really meaningfully. You never know who might contribute. I can't imagine that one of the employee's where I work would come in and sit down and gain access to the Forum. I wouldn't let it happen. Some places of business probably only approve their HR person's request to join if the HR person will agree to let anyone access it. There is really no way to meaningfully restrict this thing without us all suffering. That's the nature of this beast we type these messages into. As I've said before, this is not unlike a CB radio, or a really thin motel room wall. I guess I'll have to vote for the warnings. Don D.
  • I will also have to vote for just the warnings.

    I can't see any of the employees here having access to this forum, and I don't believe any of them even know that it exits and most probably if they stumbled on to it wouldn't want to take the time to read everything not knowing what it pertains to. This is just my own opinion.

  • As someone stated, nothing on the internet is truly confidential. I think those of us in HR who come to this site for assistance, information and sometimes a good laugh, should be cautious about how and what we post and leave the site as is -- I vote for option #3.
  • Christy: I was one of the few that read that post from the employee. To say it made for a volatile situation is putting it mildly. You acted quickly and removed the thread. I keep asking myself, what are the odds of that employee finding this particular site?

    Anyhow, The Forum is what it is because of the blend of all the personalities, viewpoints and levels of expertise. We have the freedom to agree, disagree or even offer a totally off-the-wall perspective.

    As you so apply put it, the Forum is a community of HR professionals. Restricting the Forum will make it exclusive but that is not the objective, as I see it. We are here to offer our support, encourage our fellow comrades and sometimes add a little levity (like only Don D can do). We give advise, state our opinions, make recommendations, all the while knowing that if we have a problem or a question someone out there is listening.

    I, too, vote for Option #3, to keep the Forum the way it is.
  • Does Don pay you a retainer to sing his praises all the time? ;-)

  • Of course I do. It's the same as I pay you to find a way to disagree with my posts. All of it is in good fun and I love the challenge. Seeing others' opinions challenges me to think. I do believe I am one of the few regular posters who has often admitted that I was wrong about an opinion I posted. Although I am always straightforward, to the point, unrestricted, not intimidated and perfectly honest, with frequent levity, I don't recall ever purposefully hurting another person. I think she's talking about me with the 'off the wall' comment. x:-) DD
  • Hey Beagle, go back and look at a few posts that are not so complimentary. That's the beauty of the Forum.
  • Think I need a new name. Never been called Beagle before!
  • I was also mistaken in that I thought the forum could be accessed only by HR professionals who have purchased a product. I think it should be somewhat restrictive in that any HR professional or manager with HR responsiblities could participate. The forum seems to be a great resource for HR managers both old and new. -- I enjoy the interaction.

  • I am also read the posting from the employee. I think someone had to have given her the info about where to find this forum as it is a little off the beaten path. I guess I would have to vote for just the warnings. Anything you post on the web is not confidential and is discoverable, regardless of the restrictions to join. At the point that you are involved in a legal battle with an employee, you'd best be getting your advise from your atty and not the your friends on the web site anyway. The open availability makes for lots of good participation.
  • I too was under the wrong impression and thought one needed to buy a product. Previous to this, I felt a certain level of comfort blurting out my concerns. Now I'm not so sure. I think I would feel most comfortable with Option #One.
  • I go for the warnings. While there may have been one instance where an employee used information for their own benefit, you have had thousands of posts where that was not the case and we have all benefited from the exchange. There is a worthwhile management adage - don't manage to the exception, because then everyone suffers.
  • I echo Gillian's comments exactly.

  • I also read the post from the employee. It does seem that someone must have guided her to the proper site.

    I like the open forum and would hate to see the members become reticent about posting their concerns. Is it possible to lock particular threads as an option when posting?

    We also have the option of simply ignoring a post from someone using the board inappropriately.....
  • Some of you might be interested to know we discussed this same subject on 6/12/02 regarding the fact that this stuff is universally discoverable and often viewed by aliens. Look under this same topic area and scroll down to the subject "Guests". Somehow, we might benefit from these types of reminders being flashed in bright lights periodically. I don't have a question about how the employee actually found and read the posts. My question, I guess, is HOW WAS SHE ABLE TO GET ON LINE AND POST TO THE THREAD IF SHE WAS ONLY A TRANSIENT?
  • Personally, my skin crawls when I view a question from an employee about their employer (past or present). My first reaction is to want to tell them to leave the forum and find a more appropriate venue for their trials & tribulations. I usually just ignore their posts.

    I would hate to see this forum change in any way, it's just too informative and enjoyable.
  • I agree AnneLa. I think I have the answer! Christy should take all posts like those and lump them into a special category site labelled, "Posts That May Cost Me My Job". Might that work?
  • I think that a “very restrictive” format would greatly reduce the number of participants and the forum would become stale. I think our diversity contributes a lot to the credibility of information we get from each other. The “somewhat restrictive” seems more plausible, but someone determined to crash the party will find the open window. So that leaves us with “not restricted” and we police ourselves with Christy’s assistance.

    I vote to leave the format of the forum alone and use a disclaimer in the Lobby that cautions the discoverability of posting on the internet. Maybe even go so far as to state that the forum is for human resource professionals and employers and contains mature content!?

    I am hooked on the forum and appreciate the opportunity to learn from others with more experience. I value their honesty and candor when responding; it would be a shame to see that change because of a few abusers. I don’t especially like that employees have access to this forum, but non-hr questioners are recognizable and we can choose [u]not[/u] to respond to them.

  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 01-23-03 AT 09:10AM (CST)[/font][p]How about a fourth option. Namely, an area that is "very" restricted. You could still keep the forum basically the way it is currently set up. However, if anyone feels the need for a more confidential posting, they would have the security of knowing the area is restricted.
  • My preference is that it remain non-restrictive (#3). Most of us became HR managers (under whatever title) in part based on our capacity for creative thinking and creative expression, accompanied by an inherent sensitivity and commitment toward respect for the dignity and individuality of our fellow workers. If I have a particularly sensitive employment issue, to which I would like input from this knowlegeable community, I should be able to frame the issue in such a way as to sensitively and respectfully protect the names and details, and yet get to the heart of the matter.

    Besides, most of what my fellow employees might have occasion to read in these discussions would likely benefit their working lives and enrich their minds. I see little gained and much to lose in censuring such access.
  • I found out about this forum through my Employment Law Letter. Still, if I hadn't had a chance to check it out before signing up, I would have skipped it (and it would have been a big loss).

    I have posted sensitive questions on the forum, but try to disguise my question enough so that if the employee I am asking about reads the forum, they will not be certain I am asking about them. I originally assumed everyone, even employees, had access to this forum and have acted accordingly. Plus, I have found when the few employees who stumble onto this site ask questions, the answers are very enlightening.

    So I vote for option 3, leaving things the way they are with extra warnings. Or, I wouldn't mind following Whatever's suggestion of an option 4 which requires special membership to read the posts. One must remember though, that even if you feel safe and post a detailed problem, the employee you are discussing may have a friend or family member in HR who is a member and will be sure to share what you tried to keep private.

    Ahhh The joys of an enlightened technologically adept community. x;-)
  • I vote for number 3 because The Forum has worked really well for almost two years. I like the fact that it's so free wheeling.

    Nothing is perfect and an employee may occasionally stumble on to The Forum. It's pretty easy to recognize employee questions. I suggest that we not respond to them. Please let's not be rude to them and tell them to get off. We just simply shouldn't respond. If employees can get help here, they will tell others and pretty soon we will be a job advice resource, which is not what we want to be.

    Margaret Morford
  • The same should apply to groups of students in graduate school whose professors given them a list of websites, including this one, to keep up with HR issues. We should not be in the business of spending our time creating papers for them to submit as their own work. We have had more than one of this situation where we were asked to contribute to what was obviously a group effort by grad students to come up with HR papers, surveys, thesis, etc. I have two kids in graduate school and know that this goes on. One of them even said to me, "Dad, have you ever heard anything about a type of chat thing for HR people called something like HR HERO'S?" I told him in the back of my mind I do think I recalled something like that. You really gotta watch grad students, guest viewers and lawyers!
  • My vote is for option #1. I am very new to this forum (today is my first day!) but would not feel comfortable posting questions knowing that anyone can view my post and respond to it. I like option #1 that helps ensure that my questions are being posted in a forum comprised of other HR, legal or HR-interested professionals.
  • I vote for option #3. I'd love to say either of the other two options, but since I'm not a decision maker on what products to invest in, I'd be at a loss for all the great advice I've found on this site. Unfortunately we are not a subscriber and if it wasn't for the free registration, I wouldn't be able to learn as much as I have from those who are wiser and more experienced in this field we all love (and hate) so well!
  • I agree, please let me stay. I enjoy the forum so much and our company does not subscribe either. I learned about the forum through another HR employee at a different company and truly look forward to reading and participating in the posts. I have learned so much through the forum as I work in HR with FMLA and employee benefits. This is an education we all enjoy! There are not many freebies anymore.
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 01-29-03 AT 10:17AM (CST)[/font][p]The vote seems to be leaning toward leaving the forum open at this point. Please continue to post your votes and comments on the matter.

    For whatever reason, we have had an several employees registering and posting on the forum in the last couple of weeks, which means they are finding the forum somehow - maybe just a search of web and finding then finding the forum. Despite what some suggested above of ignoring the posts, these threads received several helpful responses before I could get to them to remove them from the board. My question is this: Do you want us to remove employee posts and notify them of a more appropriate forum to post their questions ( to keep the forum from being inundated with employee posts or leave them and kindly answer or ignore the posts?

    Your comments?

    Christy Reeder
    Website Managing Editor
  • Christy, this is disturbing, to say the least. Although I would prefer to keep the forum as open as possible, it would be nice if there were some way to screen out the employees. To be able to freely exchange opinions, advice, etc. with other HR professionals is the capstone of this forum, isn't it? Given that, if a poster suspects that he's being monitored by non-HR viewers it's bound to have an inhibiting effect on the free exchange of ideas.
  • Perhaps, an idea - HRHero should remove all specific State references in a members my own, for example, the "CA" would disappear - thus adding a layer of annonimity to shield us .


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