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“CBC tramples on employee privacy”: confidential religion and sexual orientation details in online HR files

TORONTO – Your company asks you for sensitive data, you provide it certain that it will remain confidential and then you find it “slammed” on your profile in online human resources: this is what some employees of the CBC, the public broadcasting service of Canada, reported to National Post

Last year, CBC/Radio-Canada repeatedly sent invitations to its staff to complete a “voluntary cultural census” as part of its equity, diversity and inclusion program. But several CBC and Radio-Canada employees who spoke to National Post said they and their colleagues were “astounded” to discover this week that that information – sensitive private data, including sexual orientation, gender identity and religion – are now part of their HR profile on Workday, Microsoft’s online HR platform recently adopted by CBC.

“Employees don’t just have an expectation of privacy, they have an absolute right to privacy. There are some exceptions (in privacy laws), but this isn’t one of them” a partner at Toronto-based law firm Hyde Law told the National Post. “I think it’s data misuse” he added.

In several emails in English and French urging employees last year to complete the “cultural census”, Crown Corporation – which carried out the “survey” – insisted that the information provided by employees was “completely confidential”. A Radio-Canada email also assured staff that the data would be used for “statistical analyzes of its workforce” and as a tool to “identify unintended systemic roadblocks” in order to remove them. Employees who spoke to the National Post expected “confidential” to mean that the data would be aggregated and left anonymous, not collected and entered into their online HR files. Nowhere in the emails was it mentioned that the data would be linked to individual employees and entered into their HR files.

For example, a CBC employee who identifies as LGBTQ said she was shocked to open Workday and discover her sexual orientation on the platform, despite having never discussed it with her employer before. “It was just supposed to be purely statistical data, not connected in any way to our profiles”. Another employee described the discovery as a “betrayal” of workers’ trust. “It seems that management has tricked us into telling them very personal details in the name of improving diversity” he said.

Naomi Robinson, president of the Canadian Media Guild’s CBC/Radio-Canada branch, said she was taking its members’ privacy concerns “seriously” and that there are discussions with management about including “personal information in the Workday system”.

CBC spokesman Leon Mar said employee information “remains strictly confidential” and that only “a select few” within the organization have access to employee identity details. He also insisted that participation in the survey was voluntary. “Employees who have chosen to complete the cultural census can see their questionnaire responses on their profile, but neither HR nor an employee’s supervisor has access to this information” said Mar.

But those justifications aren’t enough according to privacy and information management expert Rick Klumpenhouwer, who says there is no scenario where a specific employee’s sexual orientation or religion needs to be stored on an HR platform, particularly as it is irrelevant to their work. “It’s a bit disconcerting” said Klumpenhouwer, a partner at human resources consultancy Cenera. “What’s the point of keeping it? It doesn’t make sense… It doesn’t seem like anyone thought it through very well”.

For a Radio-Canada employee, this “misuse” of worker data by the employer is “sadly ironic” at a time when the station itself is constantly broadcasting stories about privacy issues and the importance of protecting personal information. In other words: from what pulpit does the sermon come…

In the pic above, Toronto headquarters of the CBC (photo from Google Maps)

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