Recovering electronic devices from employees who’ve been dismissed

Liability risks surrounding personal files on devices are governed by privacy legislation
By Colin Gibson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/06/2017

Question: Are there any liability risks regarding privacy if an employer confiscates a work laptop or mobile device from a dismissed employee that is full of the employee’s personal files?

Answer: The liability risks surrounding personal files on employer-owned electronic devices that were used by a dismissed employee are governed by privacy legislation.  The federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) governs private sector employers, except those in provinces with substantially similar legislation: British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec. This discussion will focus on the federal PIPEDA; please refer to your provincial legislation if applicable.

Personal files on a dismissed employee’s work-issued electronic devices are the employee’s “personal information,” which is defined as information about an identifiable individual, where there is a possibility an individual could be identified through that information. Privacy legislation imposes strict obligations on organizations regarding the collection, use, disclosure and retention of personal information.