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Keep it confidential or tell the boss?

You’re an IT specialist working under strict confidentiality rules. During routine spam maintenance, you stumble upon an e-mail that suggests your company is in secret merger talks and hints that unspecified supervisory jobs will be eliminated. Your supervisor and longtime mentor is about to begin a major home renovation. Do you tell her?

By Kevin Little and Lee Simpson

Author's photo
Rev. Kevin Little is a minister at St. Luke’s United in Upper Tantallon, N.S.

Covenants take many forms, but the one I have made with God stipulates that I reach out to those on the margins of life.

Covenants with employers are hardly the stuff of divinity, but they do make the trains run on time. If everyone opted out of these oaths, we would find civil society a mess. And frankly, as I used to say in university, if we ever did live in a state of anarchy, it would be the weak, not the strong, who would be most at risk.

I am going to abide by this strict confidentiality rule unless it jeopardizes the most important covenant I have made: to reach out to those on the margins as Jesus did. In this circumstance, the information I have come across might affect the material wealth of my supervisor. Even if the worst possible outcome were to occur, and it is not clear that it would, my supervisor will have debt from a major home renovation.

Were I to come across information telling me that my employer was planning something unethical or harmful to vulnerable people, then my covenant with God would kick in and the workplace confidentiality agreement would be superseded.

What people do with their wealth should be informed by wise stewardship. In other words, I am not sure that investing in “house lust” is a necessity at any time. Purchasing a sailboat or cottage or turning your home into a Martha Stewart showcase ought not to be done unless one has the cash on hand and then some.

In the end, we all have to respond to others as we would want them to respond to us. In this case, I would hope anyone reading one of my confidential e-mails would maintain this confidence unless it put vulnerable people at risk. Can anyone seriously suggest expensive home renovations are worth a breach of one’s covenant? Of course they can’t.

Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.

In Victorian times, a strict set of guidelines accompanied the presentation of personal calling cards at the door. The small pasteboard rectangle was accepted and you were ushered in, or it was returned with a scrawled time for a later appointment. A corner was turned down to offer condolences, another for congratulations. There were well-understood rules.

Still, before the system evolved, there must have been a wild-west lawlessness about the card business. This is where we’re at now with e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and all the other Internet communications. Truthfully, we are making it up as we go. However, just as in pre-Victorian times, we rely on a moral compass to provide guidance. I will try to strip this dilemma down to its ethical bones.

First, my longtime relationship with my mentor cannot be a determining factor. Would I withhold similar information if it affected someone I found irritating? That is indefensible: “Judge not lest ye be judged.” No, I would have to reveal my “secret” knowledge to any and all potential candidates for downsizing. I must now examine my conscience as to where duty lies.

Confidentiality rules govern lawyers, police officers, health professionals and clergy. Those are lines of work in which employees are privy to personal facts that could cause pain if revealed. Additionally, the revelation could cause a profound lack of trust in the person doing the revealing. As an IT professional, I am now in that privileged position.

At the end of my soul-searching, I am faced with the blunt truth: I must be considered trustworthy both to continue to do my job and to hold up my head in the workplace and beyond. I need to keep my knowledge to myself.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
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