Canadian employees have a right to privacy on a work computer
A landmark decision, a Canadian court this week ruled that employees have a right to privacy for material contained on a work computer.
The judgment from the Ontario Court of Appeal involved a police search of an employer-issued computer used by a Sudbury high-school teacher that was found to contain pornographic images. The appeals judge agreed with a trial judge that by giving tech devices to employees, along with permission to take them home on evenings and vacations, the employer gave “explicit permission to use the laptops for personal use.”
The ruling has significant implications for workers who use electronic devices including cell phones for personal purposes – “which is pretty well everyone” – as well as employers who might like to keep tabs on employee use of tech devices, said Frank Addario, of Sack, Goldblatt, Mitchell LLP, who argued the appeal for defendant Richard Cole.
“A big issue here is the tradeoff that employers expect employees to make,” Mr. Addario said. “If they want their employees to be available 24/7 and are giving them BlackBerrys and PCs to contact them outside of business hours, it is inevitable that people are going to use those devices on their personal time as well as business time. That’s an inevitable consequence of asking people to be on call beyond eight hours a day,” he said.
“That means artifacts of personal, private life are going to get left on the electronic devices, regardless of who paid for them,” Mr. Addario said. And the court is saying that employers are going to have to respect that these are the employee’s private property, he said.