Workplace privacy issues are emerging as key issues for
employers with Canadian-based workplaces. The Government of Canada
and the Provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Québec
have adopted privacy legislation based on 10 key privacy
principles. They are:
identification of purposes for collecting confidential
limitation of collection;
limitation of use, disclosure and retention;
individual access; and
While privacy legislation applies to all business operations,
many employers have found the application of privacy laws to human
resources matters to be particularly challenging because of the
extensive collection of personal information required by human
Generally speaking, employers in British Columbia, Alberta,
Québec and in the federal jurisdiction must:
conduct a privacy impact assessment;
appoint a privacy officer.
An employer must only collect, use and disclose personal
information about an employee (or prospective employee) if it is
reasonable to do so.
Information about an employee that is unnecessary or not
relevant to the employment relationship is likely unreasonable.
In most cases, personal information must be collected, used or
disclosed only with the consent of the employee. In some
jurisdictions, consent may be implied, depending on the nature of
the information and how it is collected. Employers collect
information in a number of ways: résumés, reference
checks, job applications, benefit enrolment forms, discipline
notes, evaluations, payroll data, sick notes and insurance forms,
to name only a few! An employee, for the most part, is entitled to
review information collected by the employer and challenge its
accuracy. The employer must safeguard all personal information.
Privacy laws require that adequate security measures be in
In Alberta, there is a mandatory obligation to report if
personal information has been inadvertently disclosed and there is
a reason to believe there may be harm to the employee (for example,
a laptop containing human resources information being lost or
stolen, which would lead to identity theft of employees).
Many jurisdictions, Ontario being the major exception, have
privacy commissions. Employees who cannot access their personal
information with the employer may lodge formal complaints. Also, if
an employee believes there has been an unreasonable collection, use
or disclosure of their personal information, they may lodge a
complaint. Other aspects of workplace privacy in Canada are
emerging with regard to technologies (such as video surveillance,
voice mail recording and office computers) and the wide usage of
Canadian courts have generally used the expectation of privacy
doctrine to determine whether an employer may search an
employee's personal files on a company computer. If there is no
expectation of privacy, then it is less likely that an employee can
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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