Chapter 2: The Legal Environment in Canada

2.4 Privacy Laws in Canada

Human Resource Management Day to Day

Jaspreet manages a small long-term care residence. Lately, she has noticed an unusual increase in the supplies being purchased. She began tracking the inventory in the store room and sure enough, the amount of paper products and some canned goods have almost doubled. Jaspreet is positive that one of the staff must be taking inventory home for their personal use, but she doesn’t want to accuse anyone until she has firm evidence. She wonders whether it would be a good idea to put a nanny camera in the store room in an effort to catch the thief.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to

  1. Provide an overview of privacy law in Canada.
  2. Discuss common principles in privacy legislation.

The Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) in B.C. applies to all non-governmental organizations (or organizations under federal jurisdiction), including businesses, non-profits, and associations. It must be considered any time an organization collects, uses, or discloses personal information in the course of its operations. For example, when you register your child in soccer, you complete a registration form that contains personal information, and the soccer association has a duty to protect that information.

Information can be collected in a variety of ways, including work computers (browser history, for example), key-card records, phone records, through video surveillance, GPS tracking on company vehicles, and application forms. Privacy legislation balances an individual’s privacy rights with an organization’s need to collect and use personal information.

Generally, individuals have a right to

  • See and correct information about them that has been collected and stored.
  • Know why the information is collected and how it will be used.
  • Know that the organization employs appropriate security measures.
  • Grant their consent for the collection or disclosure of information.

In the event an individual’s privacy is accidentally breached, that person has a right to be made aware of it. In November 2014, CBC News reported that Island Health terminated two employees after it was found that they had looked at more than 100 patients’ private health-care records when there was no work-related reason for them to do so.[1] In other cases, employers have instituted video surveillance without warning employees that they could be under surveillance – but employers have an obligation to mitigate an employee’s expectation of privacy.

To address these common issues, federal and provincial governments are making more information available online, to assist employers. For instance, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia makes guides such as “Guide to Using Overt Video Surveillance” available to the public on their website ( Any time an employer collects information on customers or employees, these guides should be consulted in order to ensure you stay within the law and know how to deal with breaches of confidentiality.

Key Takeaways

  • Privacy legislation governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information.
  • Employers regularly collect information about their customers, as well as their employees.
  • The purpose of privacy legislation is to balance an individual’s need for privacy with an organization’s need to access information.
  • “Collection” of information can include monitoring GPS reports on company vehicles, reviewing browser histories on work computers, video surveillance in the workplace, as well as more obvious methods such as application forms.
  • Organizations have a duty to report a breach of privacy.
  • Provincial and federal privacy commissioners provide a number of online tools and guides to assist employers, which should be consulted any time an organization is considering a new method of collecting information.


  1. The opening segment discusses the case of Jaspreet, who is contemplating installing a nanny camera in the store room. Should she go ahead with this plan, or would that contravene privacy laws?
  2. Brent works as an HR advisor in a large organization in the lower mainland. Yesterday, he worked from home screening resumes because his five-year-old daughter was sick. Today, on the way in to work, he dropped off his library books in the overnight bin. At 9:30 a.m., as he was gathering the resumes to go into a meeting with the department manager, he noticed he was missing one of the applications. He realized he must have put it in the bin along with the library books. What should he do?

  1. CBC News, “Privacy Breach at Island Health Leads to Dismissals,” November 27, 2014, accessed January 29, 2017,


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Introduction to Human Resource Management - First Canadian Edition Copyright © 2017 by Zelda Craig and College of New Caledonia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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