Back in the 1990s I started my first full time job, I was earning £7000 per year and I thought I had hit the jackpot!  I really enjoyed my role, learning different skills and working with a friendly team.

I was really surprised when one day my fellow colleague asked me “Do you want to know how much everyone is earning?”

I’ll be honest, what other people were earning in the company was of no interest to me, I was a newbie and happy with my lot.  I found it strange that this person was so intrigued.

Anyway, this colleague told me that when he came in at weekends to work, he was given access to the key store.  Now it wasn’t that simple that he found the key to the personnel file in there, no.

He found the key to the MDs office, and in that office, there was a cupboard, inside the cupboard hanging hidden from view was another key, this key opened the desk drawer.

The desk drawer had the key to a filing cabinet, inside the filing cabinet was another key.  This was the key to the fire proof/bomb proof personnel file located in another office.  Shame it wasn’t sneaky employee proof!

This employee accessed every employee file and found out the salary of every worker.

A lot of effort to go to – but it shows that if someone is determined they will figure it out.

Also, what a lot of effort the MD or personnel manager had to go to every time they needed to access the files for every day purposes.  Probably how this employee had figured out the hiding places as anyone would have had to follow this routine of getting each hidden key when they wanted to file something in this filing cabinet.

I never told anyone about my colleague’s antics and he got away with what surely was an act of dishonesty, and quite possibly gross misconduct.  He knew it was wrong and revelled in the fact that he had done it.  I wasn’t in HR in those days and I dismissed is as none of my business.

Generally, most files are electronic these days, but there is still a dusty old filing cabinet for personnel files in many offices.

What information is lurking in the filing cabinet and is it secure?

Nowadays, with data protection, we like to think that employers are generally more careful with personnel files, but are they?

Are businesses relying on their staff being honest?

Is sensitive information or personal information left on your desk or in a post tray?

Do you limit access to your computer every time you leave it?

Are sensitive folders on your PC, password protected with strong passwords.

Does your PC automatically populate passwords?

Does your office use a shared printer – could your confidential print-outs accidentally get picked up by the wrong person?

With the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which came into force in May 2018.  It seems businesses are desperately making sure they have privacy policies in place, emailing everyone for consent and business owners are worrying that they might get in trouble for emailing somebody who hasn’t given written consent.

But are people protecting the data that is under their noses?  Are the paper copies safe in your business?

People do tend to have a curious nature and even though they probably don’t consider opening confidential filing cabinets with secret keys, people would take a peek if information is left lying around.

GDPR turned into a bit of a last-minute frenzy, so now the heat is off, take a few minutes to check that personal information is being kept safe in the office – cabinets are locked, keys are secure, computers are password protected, and all staff are taught in general good practises of data protection.

For more information about GDPR best practises at work and HR software to manage your personnel files – eliminating the requirement for a filing cabinet– please get in touch.  melanie@bluetreehr.uk

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