Zoom interviews

Confidentiality on a Zoom call

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We generally work from home but staff can go into the office when they wish.  We have a staff member who lacks a little confidence so likes to go into the office with more experienced staff so she has someone to bounce questions off. A client had a Zoom call with the inexperienced staff member and, whilst there was another member of staff in the office, he wasn't listening in as he was working himself nor was he involved in the case but the client has now emailed saying that we have broken confidentiality as we needed her (the client's) permission to have a third person in the room without her permission. To clarify only two people were actually in the Zoom call but someone else was working in the office when the call was made.

We believe we have three options;

Accept she's right and apologise but carry on as we are

Accept she's right and change our working policy to ensure clients are aware other staff may be working in the same room

Find out if she's right - hence my question.

Any thoughts?

Replies (26)

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By Roland195
24th Apr 2024 15:15

Does the client understand that the Zoom call was taking place in your offices and that the person present in the background was a colleague, not a random person in a coffee shop or family member?

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Replying to Roland195:
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By rmillaree
24th Apr 2024 15:22

+1

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Replying to Roland195:
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By mbee1
24th Apr 2024 16:07

Roland195 wrote:

Does the client understand that the Zoom call was taking place in your offices and that the person present in the background was a colleague, not a random person in a coffee shop or family member?


She did ask in a subsequent email if the staff member was training or was a subcontractor and went on to say that she was disappointed in the break in confidentiality and expects prior permission to be sought in future.
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Replying to mbee1:
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By Roland195
24th Apr 2024 16:30

Etiquette usually requires introducing everyone on a call however this would not extend to everyone in the the vicinity and would not be a legal requirement in any event (unless it actually was random 3rd parties in a coffee shop).

Definitely got the Hall Marks of a PITA Client.

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By Paul Crowley
24th Apr 2024 15:18

Who decides that a Zoom is confidential? It is the opposite, being a recorded conversation. All accounting staff can be trusted. If your client thinks that an accounting practice does not use database information internally then maybe she needs a sole practitioner with no staff.
When did the client state her terms of expecting only one person being in the room? Does she expect only one person to read emails, or for other staff members to leave the room if she makes a telephone call?

I would be exiting the relationship if client accused my firm of breaching confidentiality, because a staff member was in earshot of something they said.

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Stepurhan
By stepurhan
24th Apr 2024 15:20

Was there anything about the call that makes it confidential to that specific member of staff?

As accountants, we need to maintain confidentiality of client affairs. However, staff within a firm will generally have access to all client information, even clients they don't directly work with. Unless there was something about this particular client that overrides the assumption all staff within the firm will have access, I don't think they have a case. It would be different if you had other clients in the office at the same time that could overhear.

But if you're worried about it, you need to take legal advice, not the advice of other accountants.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
24th Apr 2024 15:21

Drop the client, first symptom of a PITA.

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By Bobbo
24th Apr 2024 15:42

Surely if there was any genuine reason why that staff member and that staff member alone should hear the call (your describing the staff member as "inexperienced" makes this very unlikely) then the client would have mentioned this during the Zoom call immediately when they saw the other person in the background.

Not mentioning it during the call then emailing after the fact leads me to the same conclusion as DJKL.

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By mbee1
24th Apr 2024 16:03

There was no reason at all why that staff member and that staff member alone should needed to be privy to any information that the client disclosed. It was an information gathering exercise prior to completing her 2024 Tax Return.

She's been a Zoom client ever since Covid but the staff member that dealt with her since she became a client ten years ago would probably have done those Zooms from home. Prior to Covid we usually used to call her on the phone and she would also send information in and it's highly likely those phone calls then would have been done from the office which, at that time, was open plan.

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By Hometing
24th Apr 2024 16:20

Surely they have engaged your firm (not a certain member of staff) to deal with their affairs?

And surely this engagement extends to employees of the firm?

I'm leaning strongly towards this person being more awkward than need be.

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Replying to Hometing:
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By rmillaree
24th Apr 2024 16:39

I'm leaning strongly towards this person being more awkward than need be.
think thats a given

people are what they are though perhaps they have ben reponsible for implementing gdpr in the past and that experience has left them traumatised that would make logical sense to me !

i guess is it possible to do meetings in separate room and is that better practice - perhaps it is if practicable - either way its put up or shut up time - i have had afew clients say to me over the years keep my affairs completely private as possible its not the most ridiculous request ever.

I wander if when this person when they go to the bank they walk up to the counter - say nothing - hand over note which starts "please say nothing" .......

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Replying to rmillaree:
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By FactChecker
24th Apr 2024 16:57

Doubt the individual would ever be allowed back into the bank again ... it costs a lot of money (and traumatises a lot of clients) when the steel shutters descend at the entrance + the whooping siren starts up + armed police arrive outside!

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By Matrix
24th Apr 2024 16:59

I haven’t worked in a proper office since I gave up my proper job but don’t employees wear headphones? Wouldn’t a Zoom call in an open office disturb everyone?

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Replying to Matrix:
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By rmillaree
24th Apr 2024 17:10

i must admit people do wear headphones and its condoned - does kinda rile me when i am speaking to people and they are too busy listening to their music to pay attention. I am old skooler who neds pensioning off though - note as soon as someone cracks a joke i note that everyone always takes of the headphones and then the conversation needs to be retold again a second time so they dont miss out on the gossip they said they didnt want to listen to in the first place.

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Replying to rmillaree:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
24th Apr 2024 20:34

rmillaree wrote:

i must admit people do wear headphones and its condoned -

I think in the context they meant, wear headphones to hear the other side of the Zoom meeting. So nobody else in the office would be able to hear what the client said.
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By johnthegood
24th Apr 2024 17:18

Surely they had a choice to end the call there and then if they were so bothered, tell them (politely) to go and find a short pier to practice their athletic jumping skills off

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By adam.arca
25th Apr 2024 13:35

It takes all sorts but this client does sound more than a tad too precious.

In your shoes, I certainly wouldn't be apologising but would think about:
* saying you're sorry to hear she's unhappy but....
* explaining the working practices of your firm and any other firm of accountants as already mentioned in several posts, and then going on to
* emphasise that she's been spoilt by the special circumstances which arose over the covid period and the particular staff member she was previously dealing with but that was never going to stay like that forever

Then it's over to her, really.

And, based on her apparent belief that her information is especially confidential and can only be dealt with by one person, perhaps point out that the logical conclusion of that position is that she would by implication be happy to wait 6 months for a response were that staff member to go on long-term sick :)

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By JamesDS
26th Apr 2024 09:48

She would have signed your LoE, which presumably engaged the whole firm, not just the junior. Thus the whole firm are covered by the expectation of confidentiality.

If she was concerned at the time, she could have said something and re-assurances could have been provided, or the call rescheduled.

Personally, i'd call her and ask "would you be more comfortable with a firm that can offer the service you appear to be require?". Nothing else, just that.

Strong hallmarks of PITA. You might instead go with:

"Thank you for your enquiry. I'm afraid this firm does not offer the facility to hold a zoom call in a way that no-other members of the firm can see your face (lip-reading!) or hear your voice. Please find our notice of termination, we wish you luck in your attempts to find a firm that can cater for your unique demands"

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By largee
26th Apr 2024 10:00

Assuming your member of staff was wearing a headset for the call, what's the difference between having taken the meeting as a Zoom call and one that was purely over the phone? The colleague in the background is going to be hearing one side of the conversation either way, and it's just that the client could see the person in the background that caused issues.

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By Watson Associates
26th Apr 2024 10:28

Is she a sole trader or a Ltd Company?

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By Lucyruth
26th Apr 2024 11:10

The client might have significant worries about her identity (i.e face and voice) being revealed if she is, say, in witness protection or in hiding for some other reason (e.g former partner). Find this out and you can agree out a way of working that helps her feel comfortable before assuming she is a 'problem' client.

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Replying to Lucyruth:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
26th Apr 2024 11:42

Whilst a possibility, surely someone in this position would have made the need for extra security clear up front. Even if it is the case, the person is still a problem client because they expected the OP to know this without being told. Anyone that gets shirty about something they did not make clear they needed up front is a problem.

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Replying to Lucyruth:
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By rmillaree
26th Apr 2024 11:48

"say, in witness protection"

surely if you have issues like that you MUST upfront say to the acountant look - i dont want to go into the reasons why but i must have blah blah blah. If they arent upfront with stuff like that they shouldnt really be blaming people for acting in normal manner.

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By Martin B
26th Apr 2024 15:13

Invoice the client promptly plus Zoom surcharge 50%

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RLI
By lionofludesch
26th Apr 2024 22:25

Laugh at her.

Never heard such nonsense.

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By anonymousquestioner
15th May 2024 09:41

If you have a “client engagement letter” or “terms of business” or “service agreement” review those and if drafted well enough, it should state that your business and its employees will have access to privileged / confidential information or something along those lines. I imagine it won’t mention only one member of staff would have access … then share the document with her, tell her, per our “document name” that you signed… then tell her to buggar off.

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