There is a growing body of arbitral jurisprudence upholding
summary dismissal of employees who breached workplace codes of
conduct, confidentiality and privacy policies by deliberately
snooping into co-worker or client records without any legitimate
purpose and for reasons of their own. A number of these cases
have concerned privacy breaches by hospital employees.
Ontario Nurses' Association v. Norfolk General
Hospital, 2015 CanLII 62332, is a fairly recent
The case involved a registered nurse who had been employed for
12 years at the Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe, Ontario.
Her job required her to enter patient care notes and use the
Hospital's computer system to look up information about
patients. Unfortunately, she did not confine her activities
to her job duties, and deliberately accessed more than 500 patient
records over a 12-month period without any professional need to do
so. The Hospital found out about this after a patient
contacted its privacy officer alleging that the nurse had disclosed
information about her hospital visit to people in the
community. The Hospital conducted a month-long audit,
uncovered the extent of the nurse's snooping and dismissed her
The Hospital also provided a report to the Office of the Ontario
Information and Privacy Commissioner, sent out 1,300 letters to
current and former patients affected by the privacy breaches and
issued a public statement. All of this made the local
The Ontario Nurses' Association grieved and Arbitrator Lyle
Kanee held that the discharge was warranted. He ruled that
the nurse's actions violated her professional obligations,
several hospital policies, the Personal Health Information
Protection Act, and even union directives. He also noted
that, on top of that, she had failed to admit the breaches or
accept responsibility for violating patient privacy.
Two months after the arbitrator's decision, the local
newspaper reported that the College of Nurses had suspended the
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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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