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Municipality Must Give Employee’s Workplace Violence/Harassment Reporting Form to Citizen: Ontario Privacy Commissioner

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In a decision that may cause concern to Ontario municipalities, Ontario’s privacy commissioner has ordered the City of Woodstock to turn over, to a private citizen, a workplace violence and harassment reporting form written by a City employee.  The form related to an incident that involved the private citizen, referred to him by name, and contained information about his personal opinions.  The citizen filed a request for the form under Ontario’s Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The privacy commissioner also ordered the City to give the citizen e-mail correspondence relating to the incident.

According to the decision, the workplace violence reporting form and e-mail correspondence provide a “narrative of the incident” along with the employee’s “recommendation about the suggested course of action”.

The City objected to providing the documents to the citizen, arguing that the Act allows municipalities to refuse to turn over documents relating to “Meetings, consultations, discussions or communications about labour relations or employment related matters in which the institution has an interest”.  The City argued that a workplace violence reporting form clearly is in respect of “employment related matters”, particularly because under the Bill 168 amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, the City “has a legal obligation . . . to ensure that its employees are not subject to violence and harassment in the workplace”.

The privacy commissioner rejected that argument, deciding that the documents did not relate to employment matters between the City and its employees, but rather related to employee observations about the private citizen who was not an employee of the City.

The privacy commissioner decided that the City was not required to give to the citizen the portions of the documents containing a description of how the incident personally impacted the employee who filed the workplace violence reporting form.

Municipalities will want to take this decision into account when designing their workplace violence reporting form and process.

Woodstock (City) (Re): http://canlii.ca/en/on/onipc/doc/2012/2012canlii10571/2012canlii10571.html