Accessing private information – ground for dismissal

Cases

Accessing private information – ground for dismissal

An employee was dismissed for accessing private information belonging to a member of the public and passing that information to an unauthorised person.

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An employee was dismissed for accessing private information belonging to a member of the public and passing that information to an unauthorised person.

The employee was employed by Centrelink (formerly the Department of Social Security). The Department had received a customer complaint about the employee after he had accessed the customer’s records. Further, the employer found that the employee had provided personal and private information from that record to his brother who was in dispute with the customer (Budziosz v Centrelink; (Print Q2978, [1998] 859 IRCommA).

The employee had approximately 25 years’ service with the employer and was aware of departmental procedures. The employee had been disciplined on a another occasion for accessing another customer’s records in breach of the Department’s privacy provisions and using the log-on identification of another staff member.

The employee submitted that no personal gain was derived from the accesses and that the level of penalty imposed was excessive. The employee stated that counselling or a fine would have been a more appropriate form of disciplinary action.

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission found that:

"[I]t is more probable than not that the [employee], in a responsible position of trust and with such a long period of service, was aware of departmental procedures, including warnings contained in instructions that unauthorised access could lead to dismissal. The [employee] was disciplined … for unauthorised accesses and was aware of conflict of interest and privacy issues and that the Department monitored such matters."

The Commission was satisfied the employee was given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

The Commission found that the employer had a valid reason to terminate the employee’s employment, stating:

"[A]ccessing confidential and private information belonging to members of the public, that is, customers, is a sensitive issue, recognised in the legislation and the employer’s operational policies, and its importance should not be under-rated or under-stated. Additionally, the [employee’s] misconduct in accessing and likely consequentially passing on private customer information to any unauthorised person/s, including to a relative of the [employee] who was in dispute with that customer are relevant factors."

 

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