Mar 21, 2023  By John Hyde

HR systems in spotlight after CBC faces backlash

CBC faced an unwelcome spotlight recently when employees raised concerns about the use of their personal information.

Details about workers' sexual orientation, gender identity and religion apparently popped up in their profiles on Workday after the broadcasting company did a "cultural census" as part of its equity, diversity and inclusion program.

"It feels like management tricked us into telling them very personal details in the name of improving diversity," said one worker, while another claimed it was a betrayal of trust.

However, a spokesperson claimed that CBC employee information remained "strictly confidential" and that only a "select few" people within the organization have access to employees' identity details.

Both CBC and Workday declined an interview request from Canadian HR Reporter.

"You have to be extremely explicit'

The CBC story "hit a little close to home," says David Owen Cord, co-CEO of Avanti Software in Calgary, who said some elements weren't necessarily "abnormal" while others were "problematic."

For example, conducting this kind of survey can make sense to better understand your demographic and cater to your employee base "in a more curated or intentional way," he says.

However, "what they didn't make clear was they would attach that information to individuals' profiles."

An employer should be "really explicit" about why it is including that information for a positive benefit, says Cord.

"You should be clear about that upfront, and you should make it voluntary or optional, because certainly not everyone's going to be comfortable with that."

Any time an employer is requesting an employee submit something that could be considered confidential or personal, "from a privacy standpoint, you've got to be really, really clear, in my opinion, in communicating how that information will be used," says Cord.

"You don't want to seek data for the sake of seeking data," he says. "And I think sometimes these days, we can fall into that fallacy of "More is better."

A lot of human capital management (HCM) or human resources information systems (HRIS) allow HR to modify or customize what type of information might be contained in an employee profile, says Cord, "so if you're seeking to include certain fields, I think it's important to be really thoughtful about, "Why are we doing that? How would we use that? Why does that benefit the employee or the employee base?' As opposed to just "Hey, let's throw it in, and let's make sure we're capturing it' without too much thought being put into it."

Asking the right questions

It's a real problem, says John Hyde, a specialist in labour law based in Toronto.

"Human nature being what it is, we see a document and say, "Well, here's a field, let's complete it. Because we're doing a better job and collecting the information' " at least that's what we think. But at the same time, you have to say, "Do I really need that information? Does [my] organization need that information?" he says.

"The more information you collect " and particularly information that's not needed " then you're creating a potential Pandora's Box."

The biggest problem here was communication and consent, according to Hyde.

"I don't think there was any malintent here on the part of CBC "their goals were laudable" it's just how it was handled."

There are several important considerations for HR when it comes to doing these types of surveys, and storing personal data in HR systems, he says.

For one, HR should only be collecting information that is necessary for the employer's specific purposes: "Any information which is additional, that is unneeded, should not be collected, should not be kept," says Hyde.

That means asking questions like "What personal information do you collect? Why do you collect it? How do you collect it? What do we use it for? Where do we keep it?"

It's also important to identify that purpose with employees as to what you're using the information for, he says.

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