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Woman ‘humiliated’ by email revealing reasons for sacking

28 February 2018

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner says an employee was humiliated after the company revealed the reason why she was dismissed in an email sent to all employees.

The woman was fired after drugs and drug-taking tools were seen in her car while it was parked in the company carpark.

Three days later, her manager explained in the email exactly why she was dismissed and also explained that management had been working with the woman on a number of performance-related matters and the latest incident had contributed to the decision to sack her.

The ex-employee found out about the email a week later and was upset that it had been sent to all staff, including those in another part of the country.

She said the stress of the situation damaged her confidence and emotional state. She was concerned about finding another job because she did not know what people in the small industry already knew about her.

A lawyer representing the company told the Office of the Privacy Commissioner other employees had spotted drugs and drug taking tools in the driver’s seat of the woman’s car. One of the employees took a photo of the items and showed it to other staff. This soon became widely known within the workplace and prompted a management investigation.

Company practice

The lawyer said following a meeting the employee agreed to leave her job. She was offered three months wages as part of her severance.

The lawyer said it was company practice to send an email to employees advising of staff changes and to be transparent about why an employee was leaving. The content of the email was usually discussed and agreed with the departing employee.

However, in this case, the manager mistakenly sent the email about the woman’s departure to all employees, rather than to the woman first. The manager had mentioned the sighting of drugs in the car because staff already knew about that, and because the company had strict policies on drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

The complaint raised issues under principle 11 of the Privacy Act, which says personal information should not be disclosed for purposes other than those for which the information was obtained.

The Office referred to a 2015 decision by the Human Rights Review Tribunal, Hammond v Credit Union Baywide [2015] NZHRRT 6 [at 141].

The Office said that while there was gossip in the workplace, a disclosure made in an email from a senior manager had considerably more weight, and would have been significantly more humiliating and embarrassing.

It said the woman had suffered significant humiliation, loss of dignity or injury to her feelings as a result of the company’s actions, and that there had been an interference with her privacy.

After the decision was made, the parties came to a settlement.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019