Canada: Hello My Name Is [Redacted]: Employee Privacy Trumps Employer Requirement For Surnames On Name Tags

Last Updated: January 25 2016
Article by Douglas W. Judson

Most Read Contributor in Canada, September 2018

What's in a name? That which we call employee personal information, perhaps.

Prairie Montagues and Capulets can carry out their work with the public on a first-name-only basis, according to a recent ruling from a Saskatchewan labour arbitration panel. The panel sided with a healthcare union that complained about the employer's policy requiring staff nametags to display both a first and last name. The panel found that requiring surnames to be displayed violated the employees' privacy and occupational health and safety rights, and was inconsistent with the union's collective agreement.


The union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 5111 (CUPE), represents most employees working for the Prairie North Health Region (PNHR). PNHR runs acute care hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, and other healthcare services in one of 13 health regions in Saskatchewan.

Prior to 2012, PNHR's employee nametags only displayed the employee's first name. The new nametag policy was introduced as part of PNHR's implementation of the province's "Patient First" philosophy. The objective was to put patients at the centre of the healthcare system, in part by making their relationship with healthcare providers more mutually transparent. Patients have an established right to know the identity of their caregiver, which is included with their healthcare records. As such, in PNHR's view, identifying employees by their last name on nametags was no different, and helped to equalize the power between patients and caregivers. The new nametags were to contain the employee's full name, job title, and photograph.

When the policy was announced, CUPE advanced 3 arguments:

  1. Displaying employee last names violated employees' privacy rights under the Saskatchewan Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LAFIPPA);
  2. Displaying last names increased the personal risks faced by employees, thereby violating employee rights to a safe workplace under the occupational health and safety provisions of The Saskatchewan Employment Act; and
  3. The nametag policy was an unreasonable exercise of management rights and was inconsistent with their collective bargaining agreement.

A number of employees presented evidence showing that by making their surname readily available on a nametag, their safety and privacy was endangered outside of the workplace should patients or their family members attempt to locate or make contact with them. Since the adoption of the 2012 policy, many employees had chosen to conceal their surname with tape. Yet, at the time of the arbitration, there was no evidence of actual harm to employees that could be attributed to the nametag policy.

In defending its decision, PNHR pointed to the standard practices of other public service providers. Five other Saskatchewan healthcare regions required full names on nametags, and the policies of two nursing associations whose members are employed by PNHR also supported the use of full names by staff. PNHR noted that employees in other occupations (including police officers, corrections staff, and social workers) wear nametags displaying their first and last names.

Authorities Relied on by the Parties

In the panel's own words, the dispute before it was "deceptively simple", which is reflected in their detailed review of the privacy law issues. The parties primarily relied on 5 authorities:

  • In Saskatoon Board of Education, a school board wished to use the photographs and names of its teachers on its website. The Saskatchewan Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) ruled that publishing the photographs with names constituted personal information, and that the use was inconsistent with the purpose for which the information had been collected. The OIPC found that the voluntary provision of the photos by staff did not amount to implied consent, and that the use of the photos was unjustifiable. CUPE argued that PNHR similarly had no consent to display employee surnames, and that the use of the information was inconsistent with the purpose of its collection.
  • In Bernard v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that disclosing an employee's name and address to a bargaining agent did not violate the privacy of a bargaining unit employee. The Court ruled that no breach of privacy rights occurred because the personal information was disclosed for a purpose consistent with that for which it was obtained (administration of the employment relationship). The Court also conceded that "[a] use need not be identical to the purpose for which information was obtained ... it must only be consistent with that purpose." A consistent use must be "such that an employee would reasonably expect that the information could be used in the manner proposed". CUPE argued that PNHR's use of surnames was not consistent with the purpose for which the information was collected.
  • In Kelsey Trail, the OIPC ruled that an applicant was entitled to disclosure of the names of nurses on duty at a Saskatchewan hospital on a particular date. The OIPC indicated that releasing only the names of the nurses in question did not reveal personal information about them. Any personal information linked with the employee's name would have constituted personal information under the LAFIPPA, amounting to an infringement of employee privacy. PNHR took the position that the employee surnames on nametags would similarly not be considered personal information as they were not paired with other employee information.
  • In Regina Qu'Appelle, employees filed a privacy complaint after the health region published the names and salaries of those earning more than $50,000 per year. While the OIPC found that the names and salaries constituted personal information under the LAFIPPA, the statute contained an express exemption for the disclosure of salary information. In PNHR's view, if publishing salary information along with employee names did not run afoul of LAFIPPA, presumably displaying full names alone on nametags was not restricted.
  • In Department of Health, a privacy commissioner in Prince Edward Island heard a complaint filed in respect of a policy requiring the display of surnames on nametags. The commissioner deemed that in PEI, full names alone qualified as personal information, but that the relevant statute called for a balancing of interests between the impact of privacy intrusion and the public interest benefits if information was disclosed. The commissioner ultimately concluded that that the employee privacy concerns outweighed the public policy benefits. The commissioner found that the security and safety of employees was clearly an overriding concern, and that there was no evidence to show that first-name-only nametags had shortchanged accountability to the public. The commissioner opined that had the nametags in question included a photo of the employee, the threshold for establishing the public interest in intruding on employee privacy would have been greater. CUPE and PNHR both relied on this decision, but disputed the balancing point in its application to the facts.


The panel was ultimately persuaded by Saskatoon, finding that the PNHR nametag policy was contrary to the LAFIPPA because it combined a name with a photograph of the individual, amounting to "other personal information that relates to the individual". The panel went on to say that it would have reached the same conclusion without the photograph because the nametag is attached to a physical person, and patients and members of the public will be able to discern other information from the employee's appearance, including colour, race, height, gender, and other characteristics. In short: the panel found that when a nametag is worn by an employee, it is impossible to separate the name from other personal information. In contrast, the disclosure in Kelsey Trail severed employee ID numbers from names, allowing for the separation of personal information. Regina Qu'Appelle was deemed irrelevant due to the express statutory exemption for salary information.

Having found the nametag policy contrary to LAFIPPA, the panel went on to evaluate whether the surnames could be displayed pursuant to any exceptions in the statute. The panel concluded that the employer had not obtained consent (s. 28(1)); that the purpose for which the information was obtained was inconsistent with the disputed use (s. 22(2)(a)); and that the public interest in disclosure did not outweigh the invasion of privacy that would result (s. 28(2)(s)), particularly given the analysis in Department of Health showing no negative impact arising from mononymous nametags.

The panel went on to conclude that the nametag policy failed to comply with the occupational health and safety provisions of the Employment Act due to the absence of a proper risk assessment and the implementation of appropriate safeguards that might be required on the basis of such assessment. The policy was also deemed to be inconsistent with the collective agreement and unreasonable. In result, the grievance was sustained on all 3 grounds of complaint.


There are some interesting substantive and process-based limitations to the panel's adjudication of the privacy issues in this case. First, it is unclear whether a court, reflecting on Bernard, would arrive at the same conclusion as the arbitration panel. The panel appears to conflate information obtained from an observed, in-person encounter with an employee to that from a recorded image – only the latter of which is information that is collected. In addition, whether the use of the information was inconsistent for the purpose for which it was collected may also have been weighed differently, especially if PNHR had based their argument on a different purpose than its "Patient First" strategy.

Second, an arbitral award does not carry the precedential authority of a court, nor is it binding outside of Saskatchewan. Even if it was, privacy laws vary from province to province, often leading to a different outcomes in different jurisdictions. The panel itself points out that different pieces of provincial legislation formulate "personal information" in different ways. It also remains to be seen whether a more specialized tribunal may have arrived at a different conclusion. For instance, the panel reiterates the union's position that its decision to pursue arbitration instead of filing its complaint with the OIPC should not be read as a lack of confidence, despite the fact that the OIPC jurisprudence put before the panel reflects different outcomes on similar disputes.

Overall, this decision serves as a cautionary reminder of the range of appropriate uses to which personal information collected from employees can be put, reproduced, or displayed. The decision underscores the importance of establishing, implementing, and communicating sound privacy policies and procedures for organizations that deal with the public, and of seeking employee consent, where necessary, in order to meet obligations under applicable privacy legislation and collective agreements.

To view original article, please click here.

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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions