Safe to talk

Question: Can someone please tell me what the position is on talking about personal cases of RSI which may or may not be considered by solicitors etc., i.e. if I talk about what happened to me, am I jeopardizing any of my case, or can I be sued for slander etc.? Serious stuff! Basically, if I chat to you all about the way I see events, where I worked and got RSI – do I need to be careful how I word it all and what I include? Any thoughts?

Answer 1: I would always assume the worst and be careful. Having said that, if you are quoting facts I can’t see you getting into problems. Avoid talking about motives, as this is the real trap area. Also, assume the RSI BB is wide open. Experts can hack in at will. OK types of quote are “no assessment has been carried out on my work station and my working conditions” (so long as that’s true). Not OK – “they don’t care. No-one’s had a workstation assessment carried out” (How do you know?) ……and so on. I spend my life getting rapped over the knuckles for forgetting this – that’s why I know about it.

Answer 2: By the way, while we are talking about confidentiality and so on – if you use email from work to discuss RSI, there is little to stop your employer monitoring your email whenever they like, so consider even personal email as non-confidential. Many PC LAN systems make it quite trivial for an administrator to read mail held in anyone’s folders, and I have seen cases where this has happened.

Answer 3: It’s worth making the point that all email is sent everywhere as plain ASCII text, unless you take specific steps to safeguard it. Any mail that passes through this bulletin board can be read by me and other staff members if we have the time and the inclination. We are bound by a moral duty of confidentiality, if not a legal one. Other system administrators on other machines undoubtedly have similar abilities over mail traversing their systems – some will consider themselves bound by a duty of confidentiality, others will not.

If anyone wishes to send email that cannot be read in transit by anyone except the intended recipient, may I suggest using an encryption method such as PGP? Or, as a slightly less secure alternative, send your confidential info as a ZIP file scrambled with a password and communicate that password in a separate message or by telephone. Zip encryption is relatively easily cracked, however it will prevent a casual onlooker reading what they shouldn’t.

Answer 4: course, an employer may not take kindly to your encrypting messages, and could assume you are shipping out trade secrets – a home-based account is better, or failing that, there are sites that do web-based email that you can use as long as you are careful about zapping the browser cache afterwards. I don’t want to get too paranoid about this – as long as you stick to the facts and voice criticisms of your employer using non-work email (or on the phone) you should be fine. It’s better to retain their goodwill if possible, though sometimes this may not be feasible.

Answer 5: I think it’s right to be concerned about safety, particularly if there are legal cases going on, and it is not wise to give too specific details about one’s employers. In my own recent response on the request for documentary anecdotes, I made a typical mistake, hit the “reply” key too quickly, and sent it to the entire list instead of replying to the person privately, including my full name and snail-mail address. This was not my intention and I regretted it immediately.

As far as what we SHOULD write about — what is most useful and helpful for other people — probably complaints about individual employers and legal problems aren’t useful anyway. What I’ve found really helpful here is mention of specific problems and situations — one can leave the details vague perhaps — and how the person solved it; or very specific medical, equipment and physiotherapy, ergonomics questions and the answers people give.


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