The law is still being written in Canada about the extent of an employee’s right to electronic privacy, particularly when they are using the employer’s equipment or facilities. As these rights are being debated in various courtrooms across the country there are a couple of things that everybody, employees and employers should know.
First of all there is no guarantee of employee privacy at work. In fact the Privacy Commissioner of Canada says that it is okay for employers to collect personal information as long as they can demonstrate a “need to know” in regards to this information. And, “Employers can balance their “need to know” with their employees’ right to privacy, if they ensure that they collect, use, and disclose personal information about their employees for appropriate purposes only.”
Another question to consider is “how” they collect this information? It would seem to be fair game for employers to know about information that employees voluntarily disclose in their hiring interviews or during performance appraisals. And other information that would naturally come to light such as medical conditions that require time off from work or personal problems that employees self-identify.
Planned or Accidental
But what about information that an employer gets from either planned or accidental sources such as surveillance cameras or by other forms of snooping. First of all it is not normally illegal for an employer to use a private investigator or surveillance to check up on an employee who claims to be sick. They can’t film a person inside their house but if they see them at the mall it’s fair game.
Surveillance cameras at work are also both commonplace and perfectly legal, as long as the employer has a good reason to install the equipment, such as security or protection of property. But employers have to be careful not to target ‘innocent’ employees in their attempt to protect their interests and it always better to inform employees if there are security cameras within their areas of work.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line on electronic surveillance is that employers can almost always get away with it if they have can demonstrate a suspicion of stealing, lying or defrauding the organization. But they have to be careful not to overstep their bounds into the personal lives of their staff or face legal challenges and consequences later.
If you are an employee or employer with concerns in this area please get your own legal advice. And be careful. You never know who might be watching.
This post first appeared on my blog at www.jobs.ca
Mike Martin is a freelance writer and the author of The Walker on the Cape, a Windflower mystery. He is also the author of Change the Things You Can: Dealing with Difficult People.