A recent employer-friendly decision by the British Columbia Court of Appeal confirmed the Court’s willingness to strictly enforce clearly drafted employer policies in order to protect confidential information. In Steel v. Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, 2014 BCCA 127, the Court upheld the dismissal of a 21-year employee for cause in response to her breach of confidentiality and privacy policies.
The appellant was fired from her employment of 21 years for accessing a confidential document contrary to internal privacy protocols. She was part of the Helpdesk team, which provided internal technical assistance to other employees of the respondent. The appellant was in a position that required the complete trust of the respondent. Notably, she worked unsupervised in her day-to-day functions and was one of only a handful of people that had complete access to the respondent’s computer system. As a result, she had unfettered access to every document and file in the system, including the private and personal files of the respondent’s employees. She breached that trust by accessing personal folders that were unrelated to her or to her work.
The Court found that it was open to the trial judge to find that, in the circumstances of this case, trust was fundamental to the employment relationship and the breach of the confidentiality policy and failure to follow Helpdesk protocols resulted in a fundamental breakdown of that employment relationship.