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Understanding Peer Review Privilege in the Workplace

    In the realm of employment law, a term that holds significant importance is “peer review privilege.” This legal concept plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the integrity of workplace investigations and decision-making processes. In this article, we will delve into what peer review privilege is and how it applies to the workplace, with insights drawn from credible legal sources.

    Defining Peer Review Privilege

    Peer Review Privilege refers to the legal protection granted to internal investigations conducted by an organization or entity to maintain the confidentiality and candidness of information shared during the review process. It allows organizations to gather and assess information without fear of disclosure in subsequent legal proceedings.

    Protecting Workplace Investigations

    Peer review is crucial for preserving the effectiveness and credibility of internal investigations within the workplace. Here’s how it applies:

    1. Maintaining Confidentiality

    • EEOC v. Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis: In this case, the court emphasized the importance of peer review privilege in maintaining confidentiality during workplace investigations, ensuring that employees can speak freely without fearing potential repercussions.

    2. Encouraging Open Communication

    • EEOC v. Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, Inc.: This case highlighted that peer review privilege encourages open communication during internal investigations, as employees are more likely to provide honest and unfiltered information when they know it’s protected.

    3. Legal Shield

    • Crown Central Petroleum Corp. v. Selles: Courts have consistently recognized that peer review privilege provides a legal shield, allowing employers to conduct thorough investigations without exposing themselves to legal liabilities.

    The Scope of Peer Review Privilege

    It’s essential to understand the scope of peer review privilege to use it effectively in the workplace:

    1. Not Absolute

    • Chapman v. Indiana Dept. of Corrections: Courts have made it clear that peer review privilege is not an absolute shield. It may be subject to exceptions, and the information may be disclosed under specific circumstances, such as when public safety or a criminal investigation is at stake.

    2. Protecting Qualified Information

    • Johnson v. Boeing: The privilege covers only information generated for the purpose of improving workplace safety or performance. It does not extend to unrelated or non-qualifying materials.

    3. Balancing Test

    • Chamberlain v. American Airlines, Inc.: Courts often use a balancing test to determine whether information falls under peer review privilege. They weigh the public interest in disclosure against the need for confidential and candid communication.

    Practical Application

    Understanding peer review privilege is vital for employers to protect their investigations and employees to feel secure in providing information. To apply it effectively:

    • Implement Clear Policies: Establish explicit policies regarding peer review privilege within your organization.
    • Train Personnel: Ensure employees and investigators are aware of the privilege and its limitations.
    • Consult Legal Experts: Seek legal counsel to navigate complex situations and ensure compliance with relevant laws.

    In conclusion, peer review privilege is a valuable tool for maintaining the integrity of workplace investigations. Employers should leverage this privilege while remaining vigilant about its limitations and exceptions. By doing so, organizations can foster open communication, safeguard confidential information, and promote a culture of transparency and accountability in the workplace.

    Note: Information found on this site is information only and is not intended to be used as legal advice. Please consult your counsel for specific legal advice.