Can you change a work category on the basis of confidentiality?

Ellen Marshall had been Plant Engineer Jeff Cochrane's secretary for almost 4 yr. As his circumstances changed, Cochrane increasingly became privy to confidential information of a sensitive nature, particularly in regard to union and personnel issues.
By Raymond Dreyfack December 1, 1998

Ellen Marshall had been Plant Engineer Jeff Cochrane’s secretary for almost 4 yr. As his circumstances changed, Cochrane increasingly became privy to confidential information of a sensitive nature, particularly in regard to union and personnel issues.

The main part of Marshall’s job involved routine clerical activities. But in recent months, Cochrane needed assistance with correspondence and memos dealing with union matters. Exposing a member of the bargaining unit to such materials was becoming awkward and embarrassing. To avoid it, Cochrane found himself doing more and more of the clerical work himself.

When he transferred Marshall to another department and hired Betty White, a nonunion person, in her place and changed her job title to executive assistant, Plant Steward Neil Taylor challenged the action.

“Who are you trying to kid? White performs essentially the same duties as Marshall. Marshall is being discriminated against because she’s a member of the union.”

“Not so,” Cochrane countered. “She received no reduction in status or pay. Her exposure to confidential information creates a conflict of interest. Management has a right to protect materials that would be against its best interest to expose to the union.”

Taylor didn’t see it that way. He threatened a grievance.

Question : If this were your nut to crack, how would you decide?

Expert’s solution: Cochrane gave the company’s labor attorney a call and spelled out the situation.

“I can’t see that the union has much of a case,” Anita Raymond told Cochrane.

“You had good business reasons to replace Marshall. It wasn’t done with discrimination or any ulterior motive in mind. Management has the right and obligation to keep confidential information confidential. On top of that, it doesn’t make sense to have to impose a clerical burden on yourself to accomplish that purpose.”

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