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Under the Radar? The Employer Perspective on Workplace Privacy


Under the Radar? The Employer Perspective on Workplace Privacy

By Dr. Tony Hernandez, Avner Levine, Mary Foster and Mary Jo Nicholson

Over recent years retailers and consumers have become increasingly aware of issues related to the security of personal information when making transactions, the surveillance and tracking of consumer behaviours, and the collection, storage and use of personal level data.  These topics fall broadly under the umbrella of 'privacy'.  If media coverage is representative of the consumer ground-swell on these issues, then many Canadian consumers are especially concerned over the handling of personal data during online purchases, the creation of personal level behavioural profiles and 'red-lining', the security of personal financial information and the relentless and increasing barrage of telemarketing, junk mail and spam e-mails.  In efforts to lessen these concerns, many of the major retailers and service firms operating in Canada have invested resources in communicating their privacy policies to the consumer, with many posting links on their websites or providing information leaflets within store regarding corporate policies, along with putting in place technology to enhance security of such data.  Retailers and consumers alike have acknowledged the importance of privacy issues in 2001 by implementing the landmark 'Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act' (PIPEDA).

While consumers are increasingly aware and concerned over privacy, what about the information collected by employers on their employees (as opposed to their customers)?  As the title suggests, this report focuses on an emerging area of privacy research - the privacy issues related to the employer-employee relationship.  What are employers doing with employee personal information?  Which types of technology are used by employers that are able to capture and store personal level data?  How are these technologies being used (if at all)?  What are the existing laws with regard to employer-employee data collection, storage and use?  These are among a number of questions that are addressed within this research report with findings based on information and insight gathered through a series of in-depth interviews undertaken with a cross-section of privacy officers and legal counsel from retail, hospitality and tourism, technology and professional service sector organizations.  The report focuses on the employers' perspective on workplace privacy, and the findings highlight the wide ranging practices and opinions relating to workplace privacy.  Further research is planned that will focus on the employee (as opposed to employer) perspective to gauge the level of awareness and concern of employees over the collection, storage and use of their personal level data within the workplace setting.

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