I’ve done a fair deal of enjoyable work on matters relating to a union’s right of access to information – be it under labour law, health and safety law (via union member participation in the health and safety internal responsibility system) or via freedom of information law. Today I had the pleasure of co-presenting to the International Municipal Lawyers Association on the labour law right of access with my colleague from the City of Vaughan, Meghan Ferguson.
Our presentation was about how the labour law right has fared against employee privacy claims. In short, it has fared very well, and arguably better in Ontario than in British Columbia.
I don’t believe the dialogue between labour and management is over yet, however, especially as unions push for greater access at the same time privacy sensitivities are on the rise. The advent of made-in-Ontario privacy legislation could be an impetus for a change, not because it is likely to provide employees with statutory privacy rights as much as because the new legislation could apply directly to unions. So stay tuned, and in the interim please enjoy the slides below.
On September 30th, the Federal Court of Appeal held that the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board ought not to have referred to witnesses by name in a disciplinary decision about a suspension for “inappropriate acts involving a number of young female subordinate employees.”
This was a second time the matter of the witnesses’ anonymity came before the Court. In 2017, it had held that the Board’s decision to publish witness names was unreasonable and directed the Board to re-weigh the interests at stake.
The Board again declined to refer to witnesses by initials, seemingly put off by the employer’s pre-hearing “promise” to the witnesses that their identities would be protected from publication. What the employer said to the witnesses, the Court held, was not right inquiry. For that and other reasons, it quashed the Board’s second decision as unreasonable and (extraordinarily) substituted its own judgement.
Here are two points of significance:
- the Court suggested that the (strict) Dagenais/Mentuck test applied by courts is the test to be applied by administrative tribunals like the Board; and
- the Court recognized the public interest in encouraging the reporting of inappropriate sexual behavior by protecting the anonymity of witness, comparing the interest to the interest in encouraging the reporting of sexual assaults.
Canada (Attorney General) v. Philps, 2019 FCA 240 (CanLII).
On March 15th, the Grievance Settlement Board (Ontario) dismissed a grievance against the government for one employee’s intentional “snooping” into another employee’s employment insurance file.
Intentional unauthorized access to personal information by a trusted agent is a somewhat common scenario that has not yet been addressed by labour arbitrators. While arbitrators have taken jurisdiction over privacy grievances on a number of bases, privacy grievances have typically addressed intentional employer action – e.g. the administration of a drug test or the installation of a surveillance camera. This case raises an issue about an employer’s obligation to secure employee personal information and its liability for intentional access by another person. Can a reasonable safeguards duty arise inferentially out of the terms of a collective agreement? Is there some other source of jurisdiction for such claims? It is not clear.
The GSB ultimately finds jurisdiction in the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which it finds is an “employment-related statute” that can be the basis of arbitral jurisdiction. This is unfortunate because MFIPPA, in general, excludes employment-related records (and hence employees). There are now a handful of arbitral decisions that neglect to consider and apply the (very important) exclusion.
Having found jurisdiction rooted in MFIPPA, oddly, the GSB does not consider whether the government (or the Ministry’s head) failed to meet the MFIPPA “reasonable measures to prevent unauthorized access” security standard. Instead, it applied a vicarious liability analysis and dismissed the grievance. I’ll quote the GSB analysis in full:
41 Being guided by the principles set out in Re Bazley, I am of the view that the Employer is not vicariously liable for actions of Ms. X. Simply put, the “wrongful act” was not sufficiently related to conduct authorized by the Employer. Indeed, the accessing of the grievor’s EI file had nothing to do with the work assigned to employees. Employees were able to and indeed did access EI files but only in those instances where it was necessary to assist their clients.
42 The evidence established that the Employer had clear and sufficient policies regarding the protection of private information. Privacy matters were discussed with employees at the point that they were hired and although those policies could have and perhaps should have been formally reviewed more frequently by management, employees were reminded of their obligations frequently by way of a “pop up” upon entering their computers.
43 Further, Ms. Smith, a co-worker of the grievor, who testified for the Union was very forthright in her cross-examination that she knew that she was not to access the private information of anyone for her own interest. Moreover, this intrusion was the first time that she knew of anyone in the workplace doing such a thing. It might well be argued that this reinforces the view that the policy was known and followed in the workplace. Certainly there was no evidence of any other breach.
44 This intrusion was not an abuse of power. It was not an instance where someone with power over the grievor utilized their authority to carry out the wrong. It was a coworker — indeed I am of the view that it was the action of a rogue employee who, for her own purposes accessed the grievor’s EI file. It was not an action that could be seen to “further the Employer’s aims.” Indeed this activity was done without the sanction or knowledge of the Employer. I accept the Employer’s evidence that it knew nothing of the intrusion until being told by a coworker of the grievor and upon learning took immediate action to investigate and manage the issue and the Ms. X who received a significant suspension.
45 Finally, it must be recalled that this Board dismissed the grievor’s allegations that the Employer and her coworkers were bullying and harassing her in a separate decision. Accordingly it seems to me that it cannot be said that the intrusion into her EI records by Ms. X was “related to friction, confrontation or intimacy inherent in the employer’s enterprise.”
Whether an organization is vicariously liable for an employee’s intentional unauthorized access to personal information is a very significant legal issue. This analysis will receive significant attention.
Ontario and OPSEU, Re, 2015 CarswellOnt 3885.
On June 9, Arbitrator Marcotte dismissed an employer grievance that alleged a breach of confidence by its union.
In preparing for a discipline grievance that related to service provided to a client of the employer, a union business agent contacted the client for information. The employer grieved, claiming both a violation of the collective agreement and PIPEDA. The collective agreement did not contain an express confidentiality clause. The employer relied on a number of other collective agreement provisions to support an “implied right” and ground arbitral jurisdiction, including a purpose clause that called for “orderly and harmonious relations.”
Arbitrator Marcotte held that the employer was not alleging the breach of a right granted by the collective agreement. He also held that PIPEDA does not apply.
Recall Canada and Teamsters, Local 938 (9 June 2014, Marcotte).
On May 15th, Arbitrator Trachuk upheld the discharge of a short service crane operator for posting disparaging and sexually explicit comments about a female coworker on his Facebook. The decision is fact specific and not surprising. Arbitrator Trachuk, however, does make the following statement about admissions and apologies (in the context of a social media offence) that is sensible and of note:
The union asserts that the grievor’s apology is another mitigating factor. The grievor did apologize to the company in his first meeting and offered to apologize to X. An admission and an apology are not exactly the same thing. An admission after a person has already been caught is not worth much. The grievor’s offense was visible on his Facebook for many people to see for many hours. Therefore, admitting he had posted the comments was not the act of accountability that it would have been if he had come in and confessed before anyone had complained. However, a person may still be truly sorry after he is caught, although such apologies usually appear to be self-serving. That is why a grievor who wants to persuade an arbitrator about his sincerity will testify. This grievor did not. The grievor’s admission and apology can only be considered minor mitigating factors due to their timing and the grievor’s failure to testify.
United Steel Workers of America, Local 9548 and Tenaris Algoma Tubes Inc. (15 May 2014, Trachuk).
I spoke today at a Lancaster House labour arbitration conference on a good panel with Arbitrator Paul Craven and union counsel Samantha Lamb, with Sean McGee of Nelligan O’Brien Payne as our chair.
I quite like this Cargill Foods case by Arbitrator Craven, in which he distinguishes between omnipresent surveillance (my words) and other continual collections of personal information that are more benign. His comments on Cargill today highlighted to me that there is no proscription against collecting personal information for the purpose of improving job performance (as is often suggested) but quite a real proscription against collecting personal information in a manner that is highly invasive and a substitute for in-person supervision.
I’ve put my speaking points below. They include some ideas about the BC OPIC’s recent Kone case, a case which further illustrates this point.
On January 31st, the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan affirmed a union’s right to observe job interviews with external candidates notwithstanding the employer’s claim that the observation right should be “read down” to protect individual privacy.
The case involves a collective agreement provision that gives a union a right to observe job interviews “for which any [bargaining unit member] has applied.” At arbitration, the employer argued that the union’s observation right extinguishes after all bargaining unit members have been eliminated from a competition. It raised the privacy rights of external applicants in making this argument.
The arbitration was a disaster for the employer. The arbitrator held that the union’s right to observe was unlimited. The arbitrator also suggested that the Saskatchewan Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act required the employer to notify external candidates of the union’s observation rights and obtain their consent. The employer managed to have the latter finding overturned on judicial review by successfully arguing that the disclosure to the union was for a “consistent purpose.” It did not upset the arbitrator’s interpretation of the collective agreement provision, however, so appealed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the arbitrator’s interpretation of the collective agreement based on the reasonableness standard of review. It also suggested that the employer’s privacy argument was disingenuous, questioning how the employer could argue that observation by the union was okay so long as bargaining unit members were in the competition but offensive to external candidate privacy interests if they were not.
Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology v Saskatchewan Government, 2013 SKCA 8 (CanLII).
On May 14th, Arbitrator Lanyon held that a union has no right to access employer records for the purpose of monitoring adherence to a collective agreement unless the right is contained in the collective agreement itself. He distinguished British Columbia and Ontario case law that establishes a right of access to bargaining unit member contact information that flows from a union’s representational rights, stating:
I conclude that the Millcroft and P. Suns lines of authority apply specifically to the provision of contact information; for example, the names and addresses of employees. However, these decisions cannot be read to compel an employer to provide information whose sole purpose is to assist the union in monitoring the terms and conditions of the collective agreement. Therefore, the B.C. Labour Relations Code does not compel employers to disclose documents whose whole purpose is to assist the union to monitor provisions of the collective agreement outside the grievance/arbitration procedure. If there is such an obligation on an Employer it must be found within the terms of the collective agreement.
In this case, Arbitrator Lanyon held a teachers’ federation had no right to information about occasional teacher assignments under its agreement with a school board. It’s not clear why this analysis was necessary, but Arbitrator Lanyon also held that individual privacy interests weighed against disclosure.
Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association and School District 69 (Lanyon, 14 May 2012).
Arbitrator Brent held that the University of Windsor did not violate its faculty collective agreement or the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by publishing teaching evaluation scores on a secure network for access by students and other members of the university community.
She made three findings. First, she held that the change in practice did not breach a frozen practices provision in the collective agreement because the publication condition (freedom from publication, as was argued) was not fundamental to the employment relationship. Second, she held that the express collective agreement restriction on disclosure of faculty personal information did not apply because the information disclosed was not “personal information” under the collective agreement. In reaching this finding, she relied on permissive collective agreement language that referred to the use of teacher evaluation data to construe the term “personal information.” Finally, she held that FIPPA did not apply based on its employment-related records exclusion and the fact that the data was used in the University’s promotion, tenure and renewal process. In rejecting the Association’s argument that student use of the data brought the records under the auspices of the Act, she said:
To argue that it ceases to become a “labour relations” or “employment-related” matter once it is made available to the students would in my view have the effect of excluding SET from FIPPA when it is used for employment related purposes but then including it when it is used to provide information to students. Such a result would be contrary to the Court of Appeal’s decision that once it is determined that FIPPA does not apply to certain material, then that material is exempt from FIPPA for ever.
University of Windsor and University of Windsor Faculty Association (Re) (19 February 2007, Brent).