A credit union (the “Employer”) dismissed a helpdesk analyst (the “Analyst”) with cause after discovering the Analyst had, without permission or authorization, remotely accessed another employee’s confidential document stored on the Employer’s network. The reason for termination was the Employer’s loss of confidence in the Analyst’s judgment.

The Analyst claimed damages for wrongful dismissal and applied for summary judgment.

In a judgment released March 2013 (Steel v. Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, 2013 BCSC 527), Justice Ross of the British Columbia Supreme Court determined that dismissal for cause was an appropriate and proportional response to the Analyst’s conduct for the following reasons:

  • the Analyst performed her duties with minimal supervision and had access to files in the organization; it would be impractical for the Employer to monitor the Analyst’s work and therefore trust was critical to the employment relationship;
  • due to the nature of the business, employees in the banking industry are held to a higher standard of trust than employees in other industries; and
  • the Analyst ignored the Employer’s corporate policies for acceptable use and confidentiality of information and a specific protocol for remote access by helpdesk employees of documents in personal folders.

By accessing the document for her own purposes and violating the protocols for remote access the Analyst violated the trust that was essential to her employment relationship.

Advice to Employers

  • Do you have policies and procedures governing employee access to and use of confidential documents?
  • Is there a system for making employees aware of those policies and procedures to ensure employees may be held accountable to those policies and procedures?
  • Consider your industry – different standards could apply to employees in different industries, so craft your policies and procedures accordingly.

Advice to Employees

  • Be aware of – and follow! – employer policies and procedures regarding confidentiality of information and acceptable use.
  • Be aware that beyond your employer’s policies and procedures, you may be held to a higher standard of accountability for your actions based on your position or the industry you work in.