Tag:Employment Law

Privacy obligations when collecting COVID-19 vaccination status
Victorian ruling clarifies application of privacy principles to social media accounts

Privacy obligations when collecting COVID-19 vaccination status

By Cameron Abbott, Rob Pulham and Ella Richards

Some Australian jurisdictions have imposed obligations on businesses and employers to either sight, or collect and hold, information about their workers’ COVID-19 vaccination status, or to take reasonable steps to ensure unvaccinated individuals do not enter their worksites or premises. For example, on 7 October 2021, the Premier of Victoria released Directions that require employers to collect information about workers’ COVID-19 vaccination status before allowing them to work anywhere outside of the employees’ usual place of residence. Industry-specific obligations (with some differences to those Directions) also apply to some settings such as education, construction and healthcare. Similarly, under public health orders in New South Wales, certain businesses from 11 October 2021 must take reasonable steps to ensure people who are not fully vaccinated do not enter their premises.

The Victorian Government Directions for workers are in effect from today, 15 October 2021, meaning that many employees must provide proof of either receiving their first dose or having booked their first dose by 22 October 2021.

To comply with privacy obligations (including under applicable health records legislation), employers must provide employees with a clear collection statement that outlines, among other things:

  1. the types of sensitive information that the employer is collecting;
  2. the purpose of the collection;
  3. who the employer may disclose the information to, including specifying if any of these parties are outside of Australia; and
  4. a reference to the employer’s Privacy Policy that applies to the information collected about employees.

Even where a business is not subject to these mandatory collection requirements, they may wish to collect this information from employees to assist the business to maintain a safe and secure working environment (including, for example, to provide encouragement to staff to get vaccinated – subject to the requirements around providing incentives to do so).

If you would like advice on your Privacy obligations as an employer, please reach out to Cameron Abbott from our Privacy team. For further information on the Victorian Government Directions, see the Alert from our K&L Gates employment team here.

Victorian ruling clarifies application of privacy principles to social media accounts

By Cameron Abbott and Rebecca Murray

The Victorian Supreme Court recently confirmed that an employer was not obliged to immediately notify an employee that it was accessing her Facebook messages during a disciplinary investigation. This case clarifies the manner in which the Victorian Information Privacy Principles (IPPs) apply to social media.

In this case, an employer conducted an investigation into an employee after a colleague reported her for making a number of abusive remarks over Facebook. During the investigation, the employer accessed the employee’s Facebook messages without her knowledge. She was subsequently found guilty of misconduct and given a final warning.

The employee appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Victoria after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) found that her employer had complied with the IPPs. In her appeal, she questioned whether the ways her employer collected and used the information was necessary “for the purposes of a workplace disciplinary investigation” and whether accessing it without her knowledge or consent was “necessary for one or more of the organisations functions or activities’ for the purposes of IPP 1.1”.

The Supreme Court of Victoria confirmed VCAT’s finding that collecting further information was necessary under IPP 1.1 as the employer was conducting a misconduct investigation “which was a legitimate purpose” and said there was nothing to suggest its approach was inconsistent with the right to privacy. Furthermore, the court found that VCAT was correct in finding that IPP 1.3 (and 1.5) did not impose an obligation of immediate notification on the employer as it could have jeopardised the integrity of the disciplinary investigation. Access the IPPs here. and read the court’s decision here.

Importantly, this case demonstrates that privacy law doesn’t automatically prevent employers from accessing the social media accounts of their employees to conduct investigations in appropriate circumstances.

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