Employee With 21 Years Of Service Terminated For Single Violation of Privacy Policy

In a recent decision, Steel v. Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, 2015 BCCA 127, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the termination of a long service employee who was terminated for a single violation of the employer's privacy policy.


At the time of her termination, Ms. Steel was a 21 year employee of Coast Capital Savings Credit Union ("Coast Capital"), working as part of the IT Helpdesk team. Steel's position provided her with unfettered access to every document in Coast Capital's database, which included access to the personal electronic folders of other employees on Coast Capital's network. These personal electronic folders contained both confidential personal information and business-related documents.

Employees, including Steel, were forbidden by Coast Capital's privacy policy from accessing any other employee's personal folder without that employee's consent. Coast Capital had a detailed protocol in place that was to be followed in the event that Helpdesk employees were required to access another employee's personal electronic folder.

When Steel became curious about the assignment of highly sought after parking spaces, she accessed a document in her manager's personal folder that contained a parking priority list. Steel's actions came to light after her manager attempted to access the parking document and learned it was being remotely viewed by Steel. Steel acknowledged that she opened the document without permission and Coast Capital dismissed her for cause. Steel sued, alleging that she had been wrongfully dismissed.

Trial Court Decision

The trial judge dismissed the case. Applying the Supreme Court of Canada's (SCC) decision in McKinley v. BC Tel, 2001 SCC 38 (McKinley), the court found that Steel's actions amounted to just cause. The trial judge emphasised the importance of trust in the banking industry and noted that Steel's conduct violated this trust in two ways. First, she opened a confidential document in another employee's file for her own purposes, not as part of her duties and not at anyone's request. Second, she violated the protocols that governed situations in which remote access of such documents was undertaken. Steel appealed.

Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal dismissed the...

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