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Global News speaks to Emma Phillips about workplace privacy rights

January 09, 2020

Can your boss read your emails? What to know about workplace privacy

Global News spoke to Emma Phillips this week about workplace privacy rights. The discussion focused on an employee’s expectation of privacy in workplace computers and other technology, and how the laws governing workplace privacy rights have recently evolved.

As Emma explained:

In Canada, employers have to have a reasonable cause before they scour their workers’ computers, said Emma Phillips, a labour and employment lawyer in Toronto.

She says your boss might have to prove that they suspect you’re doing something illegal or violating workplace policies before they can have access to your data.

“It can’t be an unjustified intrusion on employee privacy,” she said, adding that unionized workplaces have much more protections in place for employees.

A 2012 Supreme Court decision changed how privacy was perceived in the workplace, as the top court found that employees are entitled to expect a degree of confidentiality even if they are on an office device.

Before this landmark decision, if your workplace owned the device, you could expect it to be searched at any time, said Phillips.

But that doesn’t mean you can run wild with the devices, as companies have clear policies stating you can’t use the device for personal reasons, she added. If they believe you’re watching Netflix all day on a work computer, they could justify a search.

But many employers don’t strictly enforce those policies unless it’s clearly interfering with your ability to do your work.

A policy like that “might diminish your expectation of privacy, but it doesn’t eliminate it,” Phillips said.

What’s understood in many workplaces is that if you provide employees with personal technology, it’s almost guaranteed they may use it for reasons that aren’t related to their jobs, Phillips said.

“The court has said it’s just not realistic in this day and age to think that employees are not going to use devices for incidental personal usage,” she said, “whether it’s making a medical appointment, or checking your internet banking or contacting your spouse.”

The blurring of workers’ home lives and office lives also means that employers have to change their expectations, said Phillips.

A 2017 report by Statistics Canada found that increased use of technology and time spent online is impacting work-life balance for Canadians, as taking home a work phone or laptop causes work engagement after-hours.

Answering emails when you’re in the private space of your home might mean you’re on social media at the same time, and that’s not unreasonable to expect, said Phillips.

Read the entire article here.


Emma Phillips

Practice Areas

Privacy & Access to Information