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Ask HR: What Qualifies You to Be a Mentor?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

My company is rolling out a new mentorship program. I was approached to participate as a mentor. However, I don't feel established in my career and don't know if I would offer much guidance to employees. Should I still consider participating in the program? Hakim

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: There is a common misperception that mentors must be well-established in their careers to be highly successful. In actuality, mentees require different types of professional and personal support at various stages in their careers. Mentoring programs are a great development tool not just for mentees but for you as well. Before you say no to the opportunity, look at it from a broader perspective.

It says something positive about you for your organization to believe the attributes you exhibit would be beneficial to another employee. There are many ways to effectively mentor others. Here are a few:

  • Encourage the exploration of ideas and risk-taking in learning.
  • Provide appropriate and timely advice.
  • Serve as a confidant and sounding board for work-related issues.
  • Help a mentee shift their mental context.
  • Suggest appropriate skills training. 
  • Serve as a source of information and resources.

Your organization may also see mentoring as a vehicle for your career development. Mentoring engages your soft skills, like interpersonal communication and critical thinking, and helps you develop leadership traits. Being immersed in daily deadlines and responsibilities, you may not be aware of all of the capabilities you use regularly. Having awareness of your value boosts your confidence. Mentoring is an opportunity to be an advocate for others and help them in their career journey. It also increases your visibility within your organization and potentially initiates other learning and career opportunities.

Mentors have indicated that their participation in these programs has spurred both professional and personal growth. Regardless of the stage in your professional career, you can be a valuable mentor. Consider your options before making a decision that is right for you. 

We suspect one of our employees accessed employee files and shared sensitive personal information with others. If this is found to be the case, what actions must we take? —Korbin

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Employers are entrusted with retaining the confidentiality of their workforce. The employer/employee covenant is built on trust. This is why employers must safeguard sensitive employee information and respond accordingly when this trust is violated. While I am not privy to the details of your circumstances, the type of information breached would dictate the guidance for a response.  

On the federal level, employers are accountable under laws governing the protection of employees' medical information. These include the Americans with Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Employers are also responsible for observing state laws outlining additional layers of protection.

Additionally, there are state security breach notification laws where employers are obligated to notify parties if there is a breach of personal identifying information such as name, social security number and date of birth. This allows victims to take the necessary steps to monitor the impact of the breach and mitigate their risks.

If this breach does indeed stem from the actions of a single employee, a violation of this nature would fall under an employer's policies and practices addressing confidentiality and workplace conduct. The individual employee in this case could be subject to reprimand by your company. When an employee is not in compliance, they may face disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Accordingly, the process for disciplinary action would be an internal matter of company policy and practice. Aside from potentially losing one's job, an employee who releases confidential information could face criminal prosecution and be sued civilly and face significant financial exposure.

I hope you can appropriately resolve this issue and restore employee trust in the process.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.