If an employee views a confidential file contrary to clear and reasonable policy, she can be fired for cause. That was the judgment of the BC Supreme Court in Steel v. Coast Capital Savings Credit Union 2013 BCSC 527.
The Plaintiff, Ms. Steel, was a help desk analyst in the IT department of the Defendant Coast Capital Savings. In her job, she was able to access any document or file in the organization. Her work was mostly unsupervised.
Included in her job description and protocols relating to document access were clear statements requiring that privacy of staff information be respected. Help desk employees had to specifically obtain permission before accessing other employee’s personal folders online.
Ms. Steel was caught accessing a document in a manager’s confidential folder about parking space assignments for employees.
The Court noted that Ms. Steel occupied a position of great trust in an industry in which trust is of essential importance. She violated that trust by opening a confidential document for her own purposes, and by violating the protocols that were to govern such document access. In the circumstances, this was found to be just cause for dismissal.
The existence of a clear protocol was key to the finding that there was just cause. Accordingly, employers who wish to protect confidential information online should implement clear protocols governing access, setting out consequences for breach.