Are You “Over-Promising” on Confidentiality & Privacy?

“Over-promising” often occurs as a result of making unqualified statements. Sometimes, those statements are made inadvertently; other times, they may be made recklessly or through ignorance.  Sometimes they are harmless; other times, they can mislead and create false expectations that cannot be met.

One area in which it’s always good to be wary of unqualified statements is the area of confidentiality and privacy.

For example, if as a mediator, I were to say to the parties something like:

Information you give me is confidential. I will never, in any circumstances, disclose it

I would be “over-promising”. That’s because there may be circumstances where disclosure could be required or permitted by law.

Similarly, if a recruiter were to say to a candidate something like:

Information about our candidates can never, in any circumstances, be disclosed for a purpose other than finding them employment

that recruiter might be “over-promising”. Again, that is because there may be circumstances where disclosure could be required or permitted by law. You can probably think of a few of them. Some of them appear as exceptions to privacy principles. There may be other exceptions that apply at common law. In fact, your recruitment software (including integrated, third-party software ) probably captures and discloses information that you might not even have thought about!

By over-promising, you can end up misleading people into divulging information, which they might not have willingly disclosed if you had qualified your promise properly. Consent may have been improperly obtained – not being sufficiently informed. And the information may have been collected and disclosed unfairly.

In short, “over-promising” on confidentiality and privacy crosses the boundaries of professionalism. So, it’s essential to know where the limits of confidentiality and privacy lie and to mark them out with carefully considered and qualified statements.

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

Post-Law, Code 5 and Change

Change yourself concept background

I’m looking forward to leaving the Law.

Yes, after more than 40 years as a student and practitioner, I’ll be retiring from legal practice at the end of this month. Some people have asked me, kindly, if I’ll be doing any “non-legal work” in my “retirement”. That sounds a bit doddery and even vaguely unlawful!  I prefer to think of what I’ll be doing as “post-law”.

Post-law aims to resolve conflict and build accord without recourse to law, legal rules, or legal processes. It links more to the pull of community and relationship than to the push of State and power. It finds affinity with social norms and professional standards rather than with tribunal processes and regulations.

In my case, a transition to post-law is prompted by critical attitudes developed in the informal justice movement over the years and draws together learnings from mediation, conflict resolution, and integrative practice.

My friends in the workforce enablement, recruitment, and staffing industries may be aware of recent work I’ve been doing to design industry codes, standards, and conflict resolution models that are kinder, more human-centred, and more values-informed in their pursuit of professional excellence than the legalistic, anti-competitive, and self-interested models that are often promoted as codes of “association ethics”.

The RCSA Code for Professional Conduct (“Code 5”), recently the subject of a favourable ACCC draft authorisation, is a project that is informed in many ways by post-law thinking.

It replaces a professional conduct regime that has been based on rules and punishments with one that is based on professional values and guidance. It is not written as an abridgment of selected laws (such as workplace laws, discrimination laws, consumer protection laws, or privacy laws) but as an articulation of professional values drawn from the principle of Respect for Persons and from Ethics of Care normative theory. It requires Members to adopt professional values personally and to embed them operationally in their organisations.

You might have seen the Current Affair item, aired on 27 May 2019, which reported on a Western Australian “recruiter”, who was caught on the telephone speaking in a derogatory manner about a candidate, after having “stalked” the candidate via her social media account. The recruiter declined to proceed with the candidate because of what she found in her Facebook profile…or so the story goes.

You can view the Current Affair item here:

https://www.9news.com.au/national/a-current-affair-facebook-photos-cost-job-opportunity-claim-young-woman-voicemail-latest-news-australia/c673d680-cfd0-4f67-b12a-116f913f5e96

For her part, the recruiter attempted to deal with the media confrontation with as much grace as she could muster, given the embarrassing circumstances in which she found herself.

Industry stalwart, Ross Clennett was asked to comment as an expert recruiter (impressively as always) and several lay people offered their views – mostly amounting to “it’s unfair” or “it’s discrimination”.

What intrigued me – and I think it’s worthy of comment in this context – was that “unfairness” and “discrimination” are both claims-based concepts, which rely heavily on legal rules and procedures. And as far as the legal rules go, a claim of unfairness or discrimination might not be compelling in these circumstances.

There would be some evidence of indirect discrimination on the grounds of gender if the recruiter’s stalking of social media accounts were limited to the accounts of women candidates. But that seems to lead to a bit of a dead end in this case.

There might also be some issue about privacy. But the gravamen of the complaint is not so much that the information was collected, as the way in which it was used – or more specifically the adverse judgments that the recruiter made based on the information collected and the hurtful discussion that was overheard to take place between the recruiter and her colleagues.

Law states a rule, proves a breach and then looks for a remedy.

A post-law approach might ask a question – “What is the right (or professional) thing to do here?” And then looks for a pathway to the “right” or “professional” outcome.

There is a place for both, of course. And although post-law seeks outcomes that are within law  (i.e. they are lawful), its outcomes are not achieved by law.

That is why I think that a code, which can frame conduct – not as unfair, discriminatory, or a breach of privacy; but more accurately as “unprofessional” – provides a superior framework, in many circumstances. The conduct which was portrayed in the Current Affair programme is unprofessional precisely because it fails to demonstrate the respect and care due to candidates – respect and care, in the case of RCSA’s new code, providing the two broad ethical systems that inform Code 5 and its statement of professional values.

Strip away legal arguments about whether there has been unlawful discrimination, actionable unconscionability, or breach of privacy (with all its uncertainties about where the boundaries lie), and you’ve got a simple issue – Did the recruiter act professionally? That question is not so hard to answer.

And once it has been answered, the remedial and corrective pathways – freed of technical defences – provide, in my opinion, vastly superior means of achieving satisfactory outcomes that seek, not punishment and compensation, but improvement of professional standards and remedial conduct according to a standard of restorative justice that is “becoming of a professional member” of an industry association.

In many ways, that is quite close to what I mean when I say I’m retiring from legal practice to take up “post-law” practice.

But it doesn’t mean I get to go fishing… just yet.

For me, it means moving away from a model of legal practice that I’ve become familiar with over four decades to embrace a different model with new challenges.

I’ve said to a few people that I’ll be spending my time resolving disputes rather than agitating them. But, perhaps more accurately, I’ll be working with people to help them to find ways of solving their own differences.

I’ll be developing and encouraging the potential for professional self-regulation within the workforce enablement industry – meaning behavioural self-regulation in accordance with professional values, rather than the “closed shop”, anti-competitive type of industry self (interested) regulation that is often passed off as a code of ethics.

And, through learning design work with WorkAccord and through private research, I’ll continue to explore the field of knowledge that must still be mastered if there’s to be hope for emerging professionalism within a post-law environment.

So, I’m not actually “leaving the building”, as they say. I’m just moving to a different floor. Maybe one that’s a bit closer to the ground.

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

Privacy Awareness Week May 2019: Privacy Refresher & Update for Recruiters

Privacy Awareness Week is just around the corner and, to kick off its Wednesday Webinar series, WorkAccord is joining in on  Wednesday, 15 May with a free webinar: Privacy Refresher & Update for Recruiters.

I hope you can join me as we refresh our privacy knowledge and update with a look at:

  • the impact of the GDPR on Australian recruiters
  • data breach scenarios for Australian Recruiters
  • social media – what are the recruitment and workplace boundaries?

There’ll be time for questions… and hopefully some answers!

You can register for this free webinar via our Livestorm registration page.

 

Andrew C. Wood

 

12 month non-solicitation clause held enforceable against ICT on-hire employee: First lessons.

silhouette-of-scaleThe decision of the NSW Supreme Court in Thinkstorm Pty Ltd v Farah [2017] NSWSC 11 (per Lindsay, J) which was handed down on 30th January 2017, is instructive for what it tells us about the enforceability of non-solicitation clauses in professional on-hire employee contracts.

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The Unfair Contracts Legislation: Threat, Challenge, or Opportunity?

Now that we have passed 12 November 2016, when the unfair terms in standard form small business contracts reforms commenced, recruitment, on-hire and contracting agencies might consider how they can adjust to the changes; and might ask themselves whether the changes present a threat, a challenge, or an opportunity. They might be all those things. And, for a few, they might also be an invitation to do something amazing.

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Checking for Unfair Terms in Standard Form Small Business Contracts.

With less than eight weeks to go before the unfair terms in standard form small business contracts changes to the Australian Consumer Law take effect, the Recruiters Casebook outlines steps that recruitment, contracting and on-hire agencies might take to avoid being caught out after the commencement date on 12 November 2016.

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Defining the Undefinable. Pursuing the illusive definitions of “independent contracting” and “employment”.

In the lead up to the 2016 federal election, the ALP committed “to work with workplace relations experts and practitioners, employers and unions to develop a definition of independent contracting that will provide certainty to workers and employers”[1]. Despite losing the election, there are still plenty of people involved in state and industry politics, who would like to do much the same thing.

So, let me explain why I think that heroic attempts to define independent contracting and employment are futile; and quite possibly counter productive, other than to reveal what the workplace relations experts already know – namely that the terms are neither defined nor definable.

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10 things you should probably know about the interaction between candidate replacement guarantees and Australian statutory consumer guarantees

guaranteed-434x640Talking about Candidate Replacement Guarantees

In Brisbane recently, I had an opportunity to speak with recruiters about their terms of business. We got to talking about candidate replacement guarantees and some of the challenges that they present.

Often recruitment agencies put forward their candidate guarantees as a competitive point of difference; but after a while they begin to look pretty much the same.

One thing intrigued me. It was the idea that a competitive point of difference could be based upon what, from a client’s perspective at least, might be viewed as a service failure.

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Recruitment, Contracting and On-Hire Agencies: Still time to weed out suspect unfair terms!

justiceTaking stock

From 12 November, 2016 the Australian Consumer Law will provide that a term of a small business contract is void if:

  • the term is unfair; and
  • the contract is a standard form contract.

The Recruiters Casebook has been exploring each of these key expressions as we prepare for the 12 November reform commencement date.

So far, we’ve looked at the definition of small business contract. A contract is a small business contract if it meets both a headcount requirement and an upfront price requirement.

We have already considered the headcount requirement (fewer than 20 employee) and the upfront price requirement (not more than $300,000 or $1 million if the duration of the contract is more than 12 months).

In our last article, we identified some recruitment, on-hire and contracting agency contracts that you might regularly use, which might be standard form contracts and took a closer look at how a court would decide if they actually are standard form contracts.

Standard form contracts that are often used by recruitment, on-hire and contacting agencies could be:

  • terms of business under which you supply services to clients;
  • terms of business under which you acquire goods, services or property interests (e.g. a commercial lease) from third parties;
  • terms of business with your independent contractors – because they’re contracts for services;
  • candidate or work seeker registration agreements – because you are supplying agency or representation services – even though the candidates or work seekers might not actually be engaged or might be between assignments.

In this article you will learn how to recognise terms of standard form contracts that might be unfair and how a court would decide if they actually were unfair. Continue reading

Recruitment, Contracting & On-Hire Agencies: Get ready. Your “standard form contracts” are whatever another person says they are!

 

From 12 November, 2016 the Australian Consumer Law will provide that a term of a small business contract is void if:

  • the term is unfair; and
  • the contract is a standard form contract.

We are exploring each of these key expressions as we prepare for the 12 November reform commencement date. So far, we have looked at the definition of small business contract. A contract is a small business contract if it meets both a headcount requirement and an upfront price requirement. We have already considered the headcount requirement and the upfront price requirement.

Let’s see if we can identify some contracts that you might regularly use, which might be standard form contracts. Then we’ll take a closer look at how a court would decide if they actually are standard form contracts.

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