We're a growing company and have quite a few new hires. We've been a very close group despite growth. I'm struggling with the managers desire to keep that tight knit family atmosphere and maintaining the employee's privacy.

Employees notify their direct manager when they'll be out of the office (military duty, vacation, sick, bereavement etc.). We are covered by FMLA though we have very liberal sick, paid time off and bereavement policies.

I don't know how to address prying emails with some of the managers. The managers don't think they're being inappropriate so maybe I'm being too sensitive.

A new employee emailed his manager and told him his brother passed away this morning. We allow paid time off for bereavement and the manager reminded him of the policy and expressed his sympathy. When he responded to the employee's email and copied me he said I'm sorry...what happened? My issue is the employee chose not to disclose the circumstances of his brothers death when he notified that manager he was taking time off and I feel he should respect the employee's right to privacy. The same manager asked a new hire why her husband was in the hospital when she took sick time and just briefly stated her husband had surgery. The manager knew she wasn't eligible for FMLA. My first thought when I saw both emails was they'll provide details if they want to disclosure the info.

This manager has good intentions. He cares about his team and wants his employees to know he cares and that as a company we'll support them. I know in some circumstances there may be a need for FMLA so when is it appropriate to ask for details and when should they express condolences and/or concern and let it go?


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  • Hi,

    Maybe you could take this approach ...

    We support our employees and want them to know that we do but we don't want to cross over the line into invading their privacy by asking questions about what they may consider their personal business.

    With that in mind, when an employee shares information about their own or a family member's medical condition, it's okay to express concern or offer best wishes for a rapid recovery, etc. but not to ask for details of the condition. Instead, because we comply with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), let the employee know that he/she may be eligible for FMLA and recommend that he/she contact HR for more information.

    Hope this helps.


    PS: Does anyone in the Forum have another approach? If so, please share.
  • I agree with Sharon. Our employees tend to share (and sometimes overshare) about these things so generally everyone pretty much knows what's going on with the employees in their own department, but I always advise caution. You never know where concern about a co-worker or their family member's well-being may be interpreted as a privacy issue.

    When my son died, almost everyone asked "what happened". It was normal to want to know, he was an otherwise healthy 24-year-old who very suddenly died and at first we weren't even sure what he died of. I never minded talking to anyone about it, but I know some people who would have translated the concern of others into a privacy violation. Likewise with illnesses. That's why I always tell people to tread with caution. If it is a FMLA situation, then they can deal directly with HR (me) but unless they volunteer the details, don't ask for them.
  • I have worked with my staff and supervisors about this issue by talking about compliance with HIPPA and they seem to be doing better. My problem is not that usually that an employee does not provide enough information but that they tell every detail, whether they need to or not. In that instance, we usually ask if they wish to keep this just between HR and their supervisor or if the details are available for the concerned employees that ask. Most seem to think that they will share everything with everyone, but if someone doesn't want to share, we don't. I never ask more than is needed to see if they are eligible for FMLA.
  • Thank you all for your input. I greatly appreciate the feedback. It helps. I'm always concerned I over think issues like this and have a hard time trying to balance an employees privacy rights while also protecting the company.
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