Workplace Privacy, an Increasingly Important Issue in the Information Age

Laptop with lock and chain

Workplace privacy is a very complicated area of employment law and can arise in many different situations involving the collection, use and disclosure of private information. Some areas of dispute include employee medical information, the extent to which employers may monitor employees’ use of the internet or personal e-mail accounts at the workplace, and the appropriate degree of surveillance over employees at the workplace.

Controversy exists due to a clash of interests. Whereas employees wish to have their privacy rights respected and protected, employers want to ensure that activity in the workplace does not negatively impact their business interests. For instance, internet use could result in non-productive employees who use work computers to spend excessive amounts of working time on social networking sites. On the other hand, an employee who uses the internet during break periods may feel that the employer has no right to monitor the pages visited during non-work time.

How Workplace Privacy is Governed

Some provinces in Canada have their own statutory legislation to regulate and protect employee’s privacy rights. However, no specific legislation currently exists in Ontario, although the Occupational Health & Safety Act does provide some protection. Where provincial legislation is lacking, federal legislation does exist, and applies to all federally and provincially regulated employers in all such provinces in varying degrees. The federal legislation is entitled Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and it governs how personal information may be collected, used and disclosed. Common law also governs privacy law in Ontario.

Various court cases have also resulted in common law decisions that may serve as a basis for evaluating workplace privacy disputes. Employers may also have developed their own internal policies outlining the right to collect, use and disclose private information. However, the legal enforceability of such policies depends upon many factors, such as the extent to which:

  • the policy is consistently applied in the workplace;
  • employers regularly inform employees about the policy;
  • employees were involved in creating the policy;
  • all employees have a copy of the most updated policy;
  • employees are encouraged to read the policy on a regular basis.

Engaging the services of an employment lawyer provides the guidance and expertise that puts employers in a better position to develop policies that both protect business interests and safeguard against legal action associated with employee privacy issues.

For related case studies and more information Workplace Privacy, search our blog.

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Minken Employment Lawyers is your source of expert legal advice and advocacy on workplace privacy and other employment law issues, serving Toronto, Greater Toronto Area (Markham, Newmarket, Aurora, Richmond Hill, North York, Vaughan, Woodbridge, Mississauga, Brampton, Pickering, Ajax, Stouffville, Uxbridge, Brooklin, Whitby, Oshawa etc.), Ontario, Canada as well as national and international clients for over 30 years.

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