New Zealand Law Society - Woman’s search for new job disclosed to employer

Woman’s search for new job disclosed to employer

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An employment agency breached a woman’s privacy by disclosing her enquiry to them to her current employer, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner says.

The woman was considering a change of career and contacted the employment agency to get advice on what her salary might be given her qualifications. An agency employee told her that she would have to get back to her with more specific information.

But the Office says the woman wasn’t available to answer the phone when the employment agency employee called her back at work. The employee was instead directed by voicemail to the woman’s direct manager. The agency employee spoke to the manager and revealed the woman’s intention to change careers.

It transpired the agency’s employee had mistakenly believed the woman’s manager was an appropriate person to contact about the information requested because her voicemail included an instruction to contact the manager directly, when the woman was unavailable. This error was compounded when the agency employee emailed the requested information to the manager.

The woman told the Office she was left traumatised by the privacy breach. It complicated her employment situation because she had recently made a formal workplace complaint against her direct manager for bullying. Her manager then used the information against her in a letter of complaint to a more senior manager, including the accusation the woman wasted time on non-work issues.

The office says that when the woman complained to the employment agency, the chief executive acknowledged the breach and apologised.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s investigation

“In our investigation, we found the amount of information disclosed about the employment enquiry was more than was necessary in order to obtain or confirm the woman’s contact details. The employee who disclosed the information also appeared to have been aware she was speaking to the complainant’s manager.

“We appreciated the employee was genuinely trying to assist the complainant, but she unarguably disclosed personal information to her employer … the agency breached principle 11 of the Privacy Act and interfered with the complainant’s privacy.

Both parties accepted our view there had been an interference with the complainant’s privacy and she had suffered harm as a result.

“After negotiation, both parties settled on a sum of compensation to be paid by the agency to the complainant.”