First-name-basis is familiar enough, argues union

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One employer’s attempt to create a people-first philosophy ended up in labour arbitration last month after reluctant workers raised concerns.

The issue

Prarie North Health Region (PNHR) operates a number of health services in Saskatchewan, including long-term care facilities, clinics and acute care hospitals – as part of an initiative to promote a “patient-first” philosophy, PNHR implemented a new name tag policy.

Previously, employees had only been required to wear nametags showing only their first name but the new policy identified workers by their full name, job title and photograph.

Bosses explained the move was to help make healthcare more mutually transparent – the identity of a patient’s caregiver in included in their records so PNHR said identifying employees by their last name on nametags was no different, it just helped to equalize the power between patients and caregivers. 

Employees, and ultimately the union, disagreed.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 5111 (CUPE), served as the representative for the majority of employees working for PNHR – it put forward three arguments.
  1. Displaying employee last names violated employees' privacy rights.
  2. Full name disclosure increased the personal risks faced by employees, thereby violating employee rights to a safe workplace.
  3. The nametag policy was an unreasonable exercise of management rights and was inconsistent with their collective bargaining agreement.
The decision

Despite the employer’s good intentions, the panel found that the policy was in violation of the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LAFIPPA) because it combined both a photograph of the worker and other personal information.

The panel explained that the public interest in disclosing names did not outweigh the invasion of privacy that would result from the policy. It also added that the employer had failed to implement any safeguards or even carry out proper risk assessment.

What this means

“This decision serves as a cautionary reminder of the range of appropriate uses to which personal information collected from employees can be put, reproduced, or displayed,” says leading employment lawyer Douglas Judson.

“The decision underscores the importance of establishing, implementing, and communicating sound privacy policies and procedures for organizations that deal with the public, and of seeking employee consent, where necessary, in order to meet obligations under applicable privacy legislation and collective agreements,” he explained.

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