Workers’ personal info protected by privacy legislation

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act used to force changes to employer form

HEU activists have often pressed the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act into action in order to access information, but not everyone realizes that it also protects the rights of workers by prohibiting the collection, and regulating the use, of certain types of personal data. A recent example centres on an Employee Health Baseline Health Assessment form—a detailed, seven-page questionnaire concerning health and living practices—used at Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre. Employees and potential employees were to complete the form, including a declaration and consent portion that if signed gave the hospital permission to conduct a medical exam and tests it deemed necessary to determine the applicant’s ability to perform the duties of the applied-for position. An HEU member, supported by the VGH local, filed a privacy complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner objecting to the information required by the employer. The ensuing investigation reviewed the health form, the uses made of the information collected, and the degree to which the information was disclosed. The investigation’s conclusions resulted in an immediate and substantial revision of the hospital’s form. Changes included removal of the request for the social insurance number and past work/hobby exposure, removal of two pages on personal health history and lifestyle, and removal of the declaration/consent section. And significant additions included an opening statement of purpose regarding the reasons for the data collection, its use, and the information disclosure process. Lastly, the complainant asked if the personal information collected from this form could be destroyed in all employees’ files. The answer is each employee must make her/his own request—and yes, the hospital will remove the information. “Personal information is exactly that — personal,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “And employers are restricted to gathering only information directly related to work. “If you have any doubts about information an employer requests, exercise your rights and challenge those questions. After all, it’s the law.”