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Personnel Action

Title: Personnel Action

Author: Joan E. Sieber, Planning Ethically Responsible Research: A Guide for Students and Internal Review Boards, Sage Publications Applied Social Research Methods Series, Volume 31, 1992


In the report of a study of employees at a large company, it was possible to deduce from a table of summary statistics personal information about a particular employee because of his age, race, and department.

Headings: Privacy and Confidentiality; Anonymous/de-identified data; Other privacy and confidentiality issues

Case Type: Illustrative

Personnel Action

In a study involving about 200 middle management employees at a large firm, a researcher collected information on drug abuse and financial difficulties, along with employment histories and demographic information such as race, age, and sex. Although no names were used in the final report, it was possible to deduce from the table of summary statistics that a particular employee was a cocaine addict who was about to lose his home because of financial problems. This deduction was possible because he was the only Asian male who had worked continuously in the same division of the company for more than 5 years. He was laid off during the next reduction in work force. (Provide only those summary tables that serve a purpose, and make categories broad enough to prevent singling out of individuals.)