An employer has been fined $3000 by the Human Rights Review Tribunal for breaching a past employee’s privacy.

The employee had resigned from the role believing they had secured employment elsewhere. The employee had listed the manager from the job she was leaving as a referee.

When the prospective employer called to check with the referee, the manager was unavailable but other unauthorised members of management made negative comments, resulting in the employee’s loss of the new opportunity.

Under the Privacy Act, an agency that holds personal information about a person may not disclose that information unless an exception applies. The exceptions include where the agency believes on reasonable grounds that the individual concerned has authorised the disclosure.

The Tribunal held that because neither of the members of management who had made comments were the person named by the employee as a referee, they could not have reasonably believed that the employee would have consented to them making any comments.

On this basis, the employer had a declaration made that they breached the employee’s privacy and was fined $3000.

In order to avoid breaching the employee’s rights, the members of management should have refused to answer any questions about the employee, and just referred the caller on to the person who was named by the employee.

It is important to understand what rights and obligations you have in regard to your own privacy and that of any other individuals you may deal with, be they employees or members of the public.

If you are uncertain in respect of how to handle private information, you should seek advice from a professional experienced in this area.

Alan Knowsley
Privacy Lawyer