In an age of information, many people worry about their right to privacy at home and in the workplace. Although workplace privacy laws vary between provinces and occupations, the Office of the Privacy Commission provides a list of guidelines for employers to use when making decisions about handling their employee’s right to privacy. While these rules are general in nature, they make good business sense and set the tone for a mutually respectful workplace.
The employer should clearly explain what kind of personal information they will be collecting, why they need it, and what they will be doing with it. Personal information ranges from birthdates and social insurance numbers to web browsing history and psychological testing. Employers should have a good reason to collect the information and guarantee that it will be used responsibly.
Collection of personal or private information should only be done with the employee’s knowledge and consent. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for employers to collect personal information. Payroll, benefit plans, and other incentives require detailed information to ensure accuracy and compliance. In some cases, such as medical plans, the employer has limited access under the Privacy Act, but most of the time the application forms are kept on hand as long as the employee remains at the company.
Personal information should only be collected if it is absolutely necessary. Employers need to find a balance between asking for details that are legitimately required without becoming too invasive on an employee’s right to privacy. Application forms should be reviewed and revised accordingly. If there is video surveillance in the workplace, employers should ask themselves if it is actually serving a purpose.
Information that is no longer needed, or left over from former employees should be destroyed unless the employer is required to keep it by law. Once an employee leaves a company, there is very little information that needs to be kept on file. By holding onto personal documents, the workplace puts the employee at risk of a violation of their privacy. Even though documents should be handled exclusively by employees who adhere to strict confidentiality practices, it is much easier to dispose of unnecessary information than try to protect it.
Employees should have the ability to access the information that their workplace has on file to ensure its completeness and accuracy. An employee’s file should be accessible at all times. There is no reason for an employer to record information or keep documentation that the employee is unaware of. Maintaining an open door policy with employees and their personal information allows the worker to ensure that their records are up-to-date and accurate.