In a recent decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court, the
Court upheld the termination for cause of a help desk analyst in
the IT department who had been employed for over 20 years at Coast
Capital Savings Credit Union. (Steel v. Coast Capital Savings
Credit Union, 2013 BCSC 527)
Employees at Coast were permitted to have a personal folder in
which they would keep confidential business documents. Under the
only be read or edited by the employee who had the folder. Help
desk employees were allowed to access personal folders but could
only do so to resolve a technical problem and only if the employee
who had the personal folder first gave permission to the help desk
to access the folder.
The restrictions on access to personal folders were clearly set
An employee tried to open a confidential spreadsheet in her
personal folder. She got a message on her screen that the document
was already in use by the help desk. The document in question was a
waiting list of employees for parking spots. This was a
confidential document that had information about employees'
seniority and rates of pay. The help desk employee had not
requested permission to view the document in the other
employee's personal folder. She accessed it because she was
curious about the waiting list for parking.
Coast terminated her employment on the basis of breach of the
trust "that is required in a position that holds access to
confidential and private information." Coast stated that it no
longer had confidence in her.
The Supreme Court decided that the help desk employee was in a
position of trust because she was "given the ability to access
confidential documents" as a result of her position on the
help desk. She was not allowed to do that without the consent of
the other employee. The Court stated that, "the employer had
to trust Ms. Steel to obey its policies and follow the protocols.
It had to trust Ms. Steel to only access such documents as part of
the performance of her duties and follow the protocols when she did
so. Such trust was fundamental to the employment relationship in
relation to Ms. Steel's position." Accordingly, the Court
upheld the termination for cause.
The Court's decision to uphold the termination for cause of
an employee with over 20 years of service for a single breach of
to treat privacy issues very seriously. If employees in a position
of trust violate privacy policies, they may well be subject to
termination for cause.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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