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AOL CEO Tim Armstrong's extremely regrettable decision to blame a new policy cutting employees' retirement benefits on how much money the company spent on two "distressed babies" was an outrage. So much so that Armstrong apologized publicly, reversed his decision, and reportedly called the two families involved to extend a personal apology, as entirely appropriate. The incident, though, has raised a new concern for workers: just how much privacy do you have in the workplace?
[P]atient and work force experts say the gaffe could have a lasting impact on how comfortable—or discomfited—Americans feel about bosses’ data-mining their personal lives. [...]
"This example shows how easy it is for employers to find out if employees have a rare medical condition," said Dr. Deborah C. Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a nonprofit group in Austin, Tex. She urged regulators to investigate Mr. Armstrong’s disclosure about the babies, saying "he completely outed these two families."
In response to a query about how Mr. Armstrong learned the specifics of the AOL employees' situations, Doug Serton, a spokesman for AOL, said, "We aren't commenting on these issues."
All of a sudden AOL management has decided not to be so loose-lipped. Too bad that circumspection didn't occur to Armstrong when he was on a company-wide conference call. But at least they're sorry now. They still haven't explained away that $7.1 million cost of Obamacare Armstrong asserted, which is pretty much completely impossible, or how two patients could cost the company $2 million out-of-pocket, something that many health care experts are puzzled by given the size of AOL and the regular business practices large companies take to protect against those kinds of costs. Since AOL has decided to shut up about it all now (better late than never?) we might never know.
But AOL shareholders should be more than a little concerned that the guy steering this company can't keep his mouth shut on something as sensitive as employees' privacy, or apparently can't make good enough business decisions to prevent the company from catastrophic medical costs.
Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Tue Feb 11, 2014 at 10:17 AM PST.