Concerns About Privacy in the Workplace
In this new digital age, concerns about privacy in the workplace are becoming increasingly important. Since privacy legislations in several Canadian jurisdictions are similar, although not an Ontario decision, a decision from the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia may prove instructive.
Collection and Use of Global Positioning System Information
The issue in Kone Inc. (Order P13-01) (2013 BCIPC 23 (CanLII)) involved the collection and use of Global Positioning System (“GPS”) information from employer-issued cellular phones to its elevator service maintenance employees. The employees in question generally worked alone and were dispersed across wide geographic areas.
The employees complained that the information collected was in contravention of BC’s Personal Information Protection Act. Mechanics were to transmit to the phones information about when they were “on duty” and “off duty,” as well as when they arrived or left client sites. The GPS information was only sent to the employer, Kone Inc., when the mechanic was “on duty”. The phone would be set “on duty” during the workday, save the times when the employee was on break. The transmitted information would be downloaded to Kone Inc’s computer system.
Kone stated that the information collected was for workplace management purposes, and did not violate privacy laws.  The employees disagreed, stating that the information was “personal information” and argued that the employer should disable the system and use a reporting system similar to that used prior to the introduction of phones.
The IPC reviewed the complaint and found that the manner, amount and type of information collected was reasonable use of management rights.  To address employee concerns about privacy, although finding the employer had complied with and acted in a manner consistent with the Personal Information Protection Act, the Commissioner recommended that KONE “create a specific policy for the phones that comprehensively set out the purposes for which the GPS information may be collected, used or disclosed . . . which could provide existing (and new) employees with a single, clear and continuing source of notice of KONE’s purposes for the technology.”
Privacy in the Workplace and Employer Decisions
This decision demonstrates that employer decisions on “technological monitoring” are given reasonable interpretations so as to not interfere with business operations. No doubt the balancing test between employee privacy rights and employer rights to manage the workforce will continue to evolve as technology develops.
All situations are different, and the above is not to be taken in whole or in part as legal advice. If you have questions about your particular situation, feel free to contact the lawyers at Whitten and Lublin.