An employer has reached a confidential settlement with an employee following a Privacy Commissioner investigation that found numerous breaches of privacy.

The employee was involved in an employment dispute with the employer. The employer had installed a keylogger on the employee’s computer (software that records keystrokes).

The employer used the collected information to access the employee’s private emails. The employer downloaded several emails that it felt were relevant to the employment dispute. The employee complained to the Commissioner.

The Commissioner held that the employer’s conduct amounted to several privacy breaches:

  • Although the employment manual was clear that company computers were monitored, the policies were not clear enough to detail the extent to which information was being collected. 

  • Accessing the employee’s private email that contained several years’ worth of private information was “unnecessary and disproportionate to the employer’s needs”. Employers may only collect personal information for a lawful purpose connected with its functions or activities (for which the collection is necessary).

  • The employer’s policies were not clear enough to inform the employee that by using private passwords on the computer, an employer could use the password to collect additional information that was not located on the work computer.

  • A private email account “attracts a high expectation of privacy” and that there would have to be “exceptional circumstances to justify an employer directly accessing it”. There were no exceptional circumstances.

After the Commissioner advised the employer of its findings, a mediation was held in which a confidential settlement was reached between the employer and employee.

It is important that employers understand the boundaries when collecting, using, or disclosing an employee’s personal information. Failure to do so can result in expensive settlements.

If there are uncertainties surrounding your rights and obligations regarding the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information, it pays to speak with a professional experienced in the area.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-priced Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.

 

Alan Knowsley
Privacy Lawyer

 


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