Good Faith vs. Privacy: Food For Thought

For those readers with the inclination to follow the recent Massey University employment court case ruling, I’d imagine you have had some interesting conversations concerning the implications of this ruling for I/O psychology practitioners.  That was certainly my experience, specifically around privacy issues!

In a nutshell, Massey’s 2009 restructure meant that in some areas, existing positions had been disestablished and current employees had to enter into a selection process to compete for a smaller number of new positions that had been created.  Internal applicants were provided with information such as a job description, interview topics, and selection criteria.  Summaries of results were subsequently given to unsuccessful applicants. Requests from internal applicants for additional information relevant to themselves and other applicants were declined by Massey on the grounds that this was considered to be “evaluative material provided in confidence”.  This decision was then challenged in court.

In a surprise move the Judge ruled that the internal applicants were entitled to all information and materials that influenced the selection decision. As this case concerned a selection process during an organisational restructure, it was decided that the Employment Relations Act (2000) effectively “trumps” the Privacy Act (1993). Under the duty of “good faith”, this means that internal applicants were entitled to all information relevant to the selection decision. This not only included all evaluative material supplied by the interview panel about the individuals themselves, but also information relating to other candidates!  This ruling raises some really thought-provoking considerations.  For example:

  • How might candidates perceive a selection process in which their notes and evaluation material are accessible to their competition? How would this impact on the quality/quantity of an applicant pool, or perceptions of justice within the organisation?
  • The rights and obligations that arise out of existing employment relationships differ to those where an external candidate is participating in a selection process. Would this mean that there would be differential treatment of internal over external candidates?
  • No psychometrics were used in this case, but if they had been, what would be the potential consequences of test results no longer being confidential? How would HR and I/O practitioners balance their ethical and legal responsibilities?

What are your thoughts on these and other considerations/implications?  Really looking forward to hearing what you think!

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