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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Privacy at Work - Facts
    Posted: Jun/29/2011 at 7:05am

A workplace privacy cheat sheet

Daniel Lublin
28 June 2011 02:00

As the boundaries between employees’ personal and work lives become increasingly blurred, we receive more and more questions about the boundaries of privacy in the workplace. Consider this your cheat sheet on some of the more commonly asked questions at work:

Medical information 

Does your employer have a “right” to your entire medical history when you request a medical leave? The answer is no. An employer has a right to know when you will return and what accommodation, if any, you require.   

Facebook and Twitter

Once you post information online, it is no longer private. Consider whether comments you make at the workplace would merit discipline. If so, the fact those comments are virtual makes no difference. Also, beware of the status update. In one recent case where an employee took time off to mourn the death of a friend but then posted that he was “in the City and ready to party,” his employer fired him for dishonesty. Can you blame them?   


I am often asked whether it is “legal” for a former employer to provide a negative reference. Generally, the answer is yes. As long as an opinion is honestly provided, the individual providing it cannot be successfully sued, even if you disagree with what was said. Further, when you provide the name of a reference to a prospective employer, you implicitly provide permission to contact him or her.       


There is generally no “right” to privacy in the workplace, although there are exceptions. Surveillance evidence, for example, can only be used if there is a reasonable basis to justify it, such as employee theft, and after appropriate warnings.  In a recent Ontario case, the court found that a hidden camera secretly installed in a manager’s office had no basis to be there and awarded an employee severance even though she had resigned.    

Workplace computers 

While there is no right to privacy in personal information held in employer’s computers, an appellate court recently concluded that information within personal computers used for work does not belong to your employer. Although the distinction seems subtle, this ruling could extend to personal BlackBerrys and cellphones, meaning that whoever owns the device owns all of the contents, regardless of what it is used for.

Ad augusta per angusta.
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