Employee email privacy dispute rejected in Australia

An ex-employee's complaint alleging private information access on a work laptop was dismissed in Australia for not violating privacy laws.
By: | December 1, 2023

A man who accused his former employers for allegedly accessing their personal emails has had his appeal to investigate the situation rejected by the Australian information commissioner.

The appeal was rejected on the grounds the information was accessed on the employee’s work laptop.

The plaintiff, Shayano Madzikanda, had made a complaint to the information commissioner in 2019, alleging that his iCloud and personal email accounts had been accessed by his former employer, Mecrus, a firm that worked in mining. Madzikanda had used his work laptop for personal projects, including contacting Mecrus’s competitors during work hours. He was suspended from work after a formal letter was sent to him and his work laptop seized. 

Madzikanda had requested access to the personal information from his laptop, for Mecrus to delete the personal information held on the laptop, and for compensation. He cited that the organisation did not have a policy of storing personal information on company computers, and even if they did it had not been enforced in his time of employment.

A delegate for the commissioner in September 2021 informed Madzikanda that the employer had not interfered with his right to privacy due to the “employee record” exemption in the Privacy Act.

He also said the employee handbook stated that all data created, stored, or transmitted on its systems amounted to a “work product”. As the employee had been aware that the work computer was not his property, any data saved to the computer may have formed part of their employee records, as it was subject to routine monitoring and review.

READ MORE: Employees in Singapore embrace remote relocation

“The [employer] does not require your consent to access or use the equipment that it issued to you to perform your employment duties,” said the delegate, reported The Guardian. “As the computer was a tool the respondent provided to you to carry out your employment duties, it remains the property of the respondent.”