Investigation finds two-timing worker

Employee complained company violated his privacy when it investigated his acceptance of another position while on leave

This edition of You Make the Call looks at an Alberta company’s collection and disclosure of personal employee information while investigating whether the employee was working for another company.

In October 2006, an employee of EPCOR Utilities Inc., an Alberta power generation company, went on a leave of absence. The employee claimed a dispute with a manager had caused stress which required some time away from work for “life changing events, opportunity to travel.” He had signed a consent form when he was hired which allowed the company to collect information necessary to the employment relationship and stipulated the information could be used in the disciplinary process, including investigations.

Shortly after his leave began, the employee accepted another job. His EPCOR supervisor informed him if he accepted a position with another company without approval, EPCOR would consider it a resignation. The employee did not reveal he had already accepted the new position.

The employee sent an e-mail to a colleague announcing his new job, which was forwarded to an EPCOR manager. The manager contacted the other company and discussed the employee’s status. The manager claimed there was a conflict of interest and as a result, the second company fired the employee.

The employee claimed the manager’s actions were vindictive and violated his privacy and the Alberta Personal Information and Protection Act (PIPA). He said EPCOR collected information about his new job and gave the new company information without his consent and without a reasonable purpose. He also claimed the information was not properly protected from unauthorized access.

You Make the Call

Did EPCORE improperly collect, use and disclose the employee’s information?
Was it reasonable for the company to collect, use and disclose the information for the investigation?

If you said the information was collected, used and disclosed for a reasonable purpose, you’re correct. The privacy officer said when EPCOR learned of the possibility an employee on leave may have started working for another company, it had a right to investigate. Gathering information on the employee from the other company and disclosing his status as an EPCOR employee on leave to the other company was necessary to determine if the employee was violating the company’s ethics policy. “Information that an employee may have been working for another company while ostensibly on a leave of absence is information that is directly related to the employment relationship,” the officer said.

The officer noted the consent form the employee signed notified him EPCOR could collect, use or disclose his information for an investigation, particularly where the employment agreement may have been compromised.

The privacy officer found EPCOR’s suspicion and the information it had about the possibility that its ethics policy and employment agreement may have been violated were reasonable grounds for an investigation and in accordance with PIPA. The officer also found EPCOR’s disclosure of the employee’s information was within the confines of the investigation involving EPCOR’s HR consultant, the manager and the individual at the other company that it concerned.

“There is no evidence that EPCOR failed to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the (employee’s) personal information was accurate and complete,” the officer concluded. “EPCOR’s collection, use and disclosure of the personal information was reasonable for purposes of an investigation and, as such, consent was not required.”

For more information see:

• Alberta Information and Privacy Commission Investigation Report #P2007-IR-004, April 10, 2007, Jill Clayton, Senior Portfolio Officer.

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