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Former employee accuses employer of disclosing information about her work performance to co-workers

PIPEDA Case Summary #2003-161

[Section 2; Principle 4.3]

Complaint

The complainant, a former employee of a telecommunications company, complained that her ex-employer disclosed information about her work performance to her co-workers. The information in question was gathered as part of the company's quality control program and consisted of an assessment of an operator's handling of a call.

Summary of Investigation

Under this program, the company contracts an outside organization to place calls to operators to assess quality of service. The operator is identified by the first name he or she gave during the call. Operators may use an alias to protect their identity, and they are not required to always use the same name. The purpose of the program is to monitor the performance of a work team as a whole, and not to manage individual performance or to discipline. Managers do, however, follow up with individual operators in cases of exceptionally poor or exceptionally good service - after the manager has first determined what name(s) the operator is using.

In this case, reports from several calls were given out at a team meeting for the purpose of discussing the quality of the team's service. Although the name of the operator was whited out on the reports, one individual detected, by holding the sheet up to the light, a name, which was the same as the complainant's first name. The method of blocking out operator names has since been changed, making it impossible to read.

Commissioner's Findings

Issued April 16, 2003

Jurisdiction: As of January 1, 2001, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (the Act) applies to any federal work, undertaking, or business. The Commissioner had jurisdiction in this case because a telecommunications company is a federal work, undertaking or business as defined in the Act.

Application: Section 2 of the Act defines personal information to be "...information about an identifiable individual...". Principle 4.3 states that the knowledge and consent of the individual are required for the collection and use of personal information, except where inappropriate.

In determining whether the report was the complainant's personal information, as she claimed, the Commissioner noted that the complainant's assumption was based solely on the operator name that was discernible only when the report was held up to the light. While she believed that she was the only person using that name, the Commissioner agreed with the company, which argued that since the operators are free to use and change their aliases, without specifying to the manager which one is in use, the complainant would not have been able to determine what aliases were being used by other employees, nor would she have been able to confirm that the name on the sheet referred to her. Given the lack of sufficient evidence to link the report to the complainant, the Commissioner determined that it did not qualify as personal information for the purposes of section 2, and that the provisions of the Act did not apply.

The Commissioner therefore concluded that the complaint was not well-founded.

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