Organization required to mask detailed personal-leave information available to other employees

PIPEDA Case Summary #2014-014

October 31, 2014


Lessons Learned

  • An organization should not disclose information about why one of its employees is absent from the workplace to other employees, unless those other employees have an operational need to know such information. 
  • Even though the disclosure of certain employee personal information to other employees can bring certain benefits, such benefits must be proportional to the loss of privacy experienced by the disclosure of such information.

Complaint

The complainant alleged that his employer (the organization) disclosed to other employees in his work unit detailed personal information about his absence from the workplace. The complainant believed that only employees required through their duties to be made aware of such information should have access to it.

Summary of investigation

The organization managed workplace leave through an electronic employee scheduling program that allowed all employees to view certain approved leave information, including the reason for an absence, for all other employees in their unit.  The organization claimed that it made such leave information available to other employees of the same work unit to facilitate the exchange of shifts between employees, which the organization claimed employees had a right to do under their collective agreement. The organization took the view that it had an obligation under the applicable collective agreement to collect and maintain records about employees’ schedules and leave.

Following our investigation, we determined that the leave information at issue was personal information under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), since it was information about an identifiable employee that related to why that employee was absent from the workplace. We observed that the employee scheduling program listed and identified each employee within the complainant’s functional unit, and clearly associated the employee with the type of leave they used for an absence from the workplace.  We determined that some of the leave categories could provide additional details about why a particular employee was absent, including absence due to medical care, a death in the family, birth of a child and parental leave. In our view, by having this information easily accessible to other employees in the same work unit, the individual on leave would be denied the option of maintaining privacy as to why they were absent from the workplace.

Outcome

In setting out our findings, we examined whether the organization’s purposes for disclosing employee leave information to other employees in the same work unit were for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances, pursuant to subsection 5(3) of PIPEDA.

The organization took the view that the personal information at issue was necessary for employees to carry out shift exchanges in an effective and efficient manner, and to ensure consistent staffing of all shifts. However, in our Office’s view, there were other less privacy-intrusive means to indicate employee availability without resorting to disclosing potentially sensitive personal information.

The organization also stated it had gained enormous benefit from using the employee scheduling program.  Additionally, the organization was of the view that the complainant had suffered only a minimal loss of privacy.  In our view, however, while the employee shift scheduling program could provide certain benefits to employees, we found that any benefit gained by the leave exchange system was not proportional to the loss of privacy experienced by employees. 

In addition, the organization stated that it was required to disclose leave-types to meet its obligations under the complainant’s collective agreement. However, we noted that the collective agreement did not describe how to operationalize shift exchanges, nor did it oblige the organization in any way to disclose the reason for an employee’s leave to other employees.

We ultimately concluded that, under subsection 5(3) of PIPEDA, the organization’s purposes for disclosing the complainant’s personal information were not appropriate in the circumstances since disclosing leave type was not necessary for the organization to meet its employee schedule management needs in the context of its work environment.

After we made several recommendations to the organization, it agreed to remove employee leave information viewable by co-workers from its employee shift scheduling program, and from other related tools and systems. The organization indicated that this change would be completed within 18 months.

Therefore, on the basis of our investigation and the organization’s commitment, we found the matter to be well-founded and conditionally resolved, pending the organization’s implementation of its commitment to modify its employee shift scheduling program.

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