Does one wrong move warrant dismissal?

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The saying goes that trust takes years to build but seconds to break – so does that mean HR can lawfully sack someone for just one slip-up? One employment lawyer says a particular B.C court decision can shed some light on the matter.

The case

Employee Susan Steel had a 21-year unblemished record when bosses at Coast Capital Savings Credit Union (CCSCU) dismissed her with cause – the former helpdesk analyst had accessed a confidential document in another employee’s personal folder without permission.

All CCSCU employees are assigned a private personal folder on the company’s internal network – designed for storing confidential employment information – which other employees are unable to access. 

The only exception to the rule was that Steel could gain access in order to assist employees with technical problems – but only after the file’s owner had granted permission or if the VP of corporate security gave the go-ahead.

CCSCU also maintained strict policies with respect to accessing information and privacy and confidentiality were taken very seriously within the workplace. Each year, Steel formally acknowledged that she had reviewed, understood and signed off on several company policies including Acceptable Use Policy, Code of Conduct Policy, and the Information Confidentiality Policy.

Despite this, Steel accessed another employee’s confidential file.
“Her evidence was that she accessed the file in order to retrieve a document related to parking spot eligibility for her manager,” said Cox & Palmer lawyer Ashley Savinov. Steel claimed her manager Bryan Valdal was trying to obtain the document from fellow manager Leslie Kerr, but was having difficulty reaching her.

“Steel said that she knew of the document's existence and location because she had assisted Kerr a few weeks earlier with the file in her personal folder,” explained Savinov. “The confidential document set out a waiting list of employees that were eligible for the limited parking spots at [CCSCU] and also contained information about employees' seniority and pay grades.”

Unfortunately for Steel, while she was reviewing Kerr’s personal file, Kerr also tried to access the same document – unable to open it, she received a notification that it was already in use.

(Continued...)

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