Employers must respond within 30 days, include reasons for withholding personal information
The Federal Court recently underscored the importance of
compliance with the requirements of the Personal Information
Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in a decision
that applies only to federal works and undertakings subject to the
Act.1 In Cote v. Day & Ross
(Cote), 2015 FC 1283, Justice Harrington affirmed that:
employers governed by PIPEDA2 must respond to requests
by employees for their personal information file within 30 days;
reasons must be provided when refusing to provide full and complete
information in response to a request; a personal information file
may also include third-party information about an employee; and
that the trend of awarding nominal damages for breach is
What You Need To Know
Decision applies only to federal works, undertakings
and businesses subject to PIPEDA. Only those employers
falling within section 4(1)(b) are subject to the
30-day timeframe for responding to PIPEDA
requests. The Cote decision affirms that PIPEDA
requires companies to respond to employee requests for access to
the employee's personal information held by the company within
a 30-day timeframe, pursuant to section 8(3) of the Act.
Provide reasons for withholding information.
Compliance with section 8(7) of PIPEDA requires that a employers
provide reasons for withholding personal information in response to
an access request, even where the employee does not ask for
reasons. Company privacy policies may not include a qualification
that reasons for denying access to an employee's personal
information will only be provided "upon request."
Personal vs. third-party information.
Communications between an employer and a third party about an
employee are part of that employee's personal information file.
Section 9(1) of PIPEDA provides that a company may withhold
personal information from an individual if doing so would result in
revealing personal information about a third party. However, the
third-party information must be severed where possible and the
remaining information must be provided to the individual.
Nominal damages. Cote confirms that
damages for such breaches continue to be nominal, but that they may
be ordered to reinforce the importance of complying with PIPEDA
even where the employer has brought its policies and practices into
compliance with the Act. In Cote, the employee was awarded
$5,000 in damages and $1,000 for disbursements.
Companies should continue to be alert to their obligations
sunder PIPEDA, and the decision in Cote emphasizes the
importance of reviewing employee privacy policies and practices to
ensure that access requests are addressed in a responsive and
* With assistance from Caitlin Morin, Articling Student.
1. Not all employers are subject to PIPEDA, per section
4(1)(b) of the Act. Federal works, undertakings and businesses are
defined in section 2 of the Act, and include companies involved in,
for example: banking, navigation and shipping, railways or other
works that extend beyond provincial borders, air transportation;
radio broadcasting, and works that operate outside provincial
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