After being terminated, an employee may claim wrongful dismissal. Depending on the claim, there may be certain documents that an employee may want to enter as evidence to support their claim that they were wrongfully terminated. However, these documents may contain confidential information about their employer, especially if they are employed by a corporation that deals with sensitive user data and information. Generally, employers have policies on the return of workplace information so that employees no longer have access to this confidential information after termination. 

This post will discuss what happens when an employee tries to use confidential workplace information in their wrongful dismissal claim. We will discuss the case Rae v. Ecolab Co., 2023 ONSC 5995, in which the court ordered the employee to return workplace documents that contained sensitive information to the employer. These documents were not permitted to be admitted as evidence. The purpose of this post is to provide critical takeaways for situations where an employee tries to include confidential workplace information in their wrongful dismissal claim.

Confidentiality Policies 

It is important for employers to have policies on how an employee handles sensitive and confidential information during their employment. These policies set clear expectations on how employees must treat confidential information during and after they leave the company. 

For example, the employer can mandate that key employees can only access certain information with the appropriate login credentials. The policy may also include procedures for when documents must be destroyed, including ways to appropriately handle their destruction. 

In addition, an employer should consider what types of electronic security are available to protect confidential workplace documents, as many records are now stored digitally. An employer can also consider including training that helps employees avoid common mistakes with computer usage, such as phishing and downloading documents without verifying the sender. 

Employers can also consider requiring an employee to sign a non-disclosure agreement. If confidential information is leaked despite a non-disclosure agreement, an employer may also be able to pursue a claim for breach of contract. 

When an employee is terminated, an employer must ensure that the employee no longer has access to confidential information after leaving the company. Sometimes this can be difficult, as in the Rae case below, in which an employee took confidential company information without the employer’s knowledge to use these documents in his wrongful dismissal claim. Luckily, the court can offer remedies for these types of situations, as we will discuss below. 

Employee attempts to enter confidential workplace documents as evidence in wrongful dismissal claim 

In the Rae case, an employee attempted to use confidential workplace documents as evidence in his wrongful dismissal claim. 

The employer was a global company in the water, energy, and hygiene technologies and services industry. The parent company was located in the US as a publicly traded company. In this case, the action was brought against the Canadian subsidiary of the company, which was not publicly listed. 

The employee worked with the company for 11 years, from 2009 to 2020. The employee was a Certified Public Accountant who worked as a controller for the employer. He was also a director for the company. He was dismissed without just cause and was provided 10 months of notice as the company decided to eliminate the finance department of the Canadian subsidiary. 

When the employee commenced his claim, he included some of the employer’s documents. He admitted that he had taken the documents without the knowledge of his former employer. He stated he intended to rely on them for his wrongful dismissal case. The employee claimed that the documents were relevant to his case. He also claimed that there was no breach of confidence, as he did not misuse the information obtained, and the documents should not be considered confidential, as the employer did not comply with its own Code of Conduct, which required their employees to maintain the confidentiality of workplace documents both during and after working with the employer. In particular, he claimed that he had not publicly disclosed confidential information and held private copies of the documents, which were stored on a secure site. He claimed that he took the documents because the employer acted in bad faith and did not follow their Code of Conduct. 

As a result of his role, the employee had access to confidential financial information of the company. In particular, he was responsible for reviewing, preparing, and finalizing the company’s tax returns. His role also involved directing the company’s accounting and financial control standards. Due to his high-level management role, he was one of four key individuals accessing this confidential information. He accessed confidential financial information from the Canadian subsidiary and the US parent company. 

In this case, the information was protected with a password, and each employee with access had unique login credentials that could not be transferred. 

In the employment contract and an additional agreement for management-level employees such as the plaintiff, there were also terms to maintain the confidentiality of workplace documents. The employer also had a Code of Conduct, which outlined that employees were never to use the company’s confidential or proprietary information for personal gain, whether during their employment or after they leave the company. Furthermore, the employee received yearly training concerning the Code of Conduct and computer security. 

Court orders employee to return confidential workplace documents 

The court ordered the employee to return the confidential documents to the employer. The court found that many documents taken included financial information that was not required to be publicly disclosed. This information included the sales revenues, cash flows, and debts of the company, as well as payroll information. 

The court found that the employment contract clearly stated that the employee was not to take confidential information out of the company after leaving. The contract stated confidential documents would include financial information about the company.  

As the information was the company’s property, the employee was ordered to return it. The court found that allowing the employee to use this information would be much more prejudicial to the employer than important to the employee’s case. The court found that it would be an abuse of process to allow the employee to use stolen documents for his benefit in litigation. Also, the court noted that the employee could have brought a motion for the employer to produce the records, which would have provided an opportunity to address relevance and confidentiality. The balance of convenience favoured the employer, and they were provided injunctive relief for the employee to return the confidential documents. 

Contact Haynes Law Firm in Toronto for Advice on Confidential Workplace Documents

It is essential for employers to carefully understand the role of confidentiality agreements and policies in the workplace, as employees often handle highly sensitive data and information. As this will depend on the specific circumstances of your case, our experienced employment law legal team at Haynes Law Firm in Toronto can assist you with issues that arise from confidentiality in employment contracts

For employees, our goal is to ensure that they understand their rights and obligations under the employment contract. Haynes Law Firm also assists employers in avoiding liabilities that may arise from employment contracts and policies that do not adequately maintain the confidentiality of workplace documents. We are dedicated to finding the best resolution for you.

To book a consultation, please get in touch with us online or by phone at 416-593-2731.