Support Person Must Maintain Confidentiality

CFMEU v MSS Strategic Medical and Rescue [2014] FWC 4336 (5 September 2014)

Employees may have a contractual obligation to keep company information and systems confidential for commercial reasons, but many company’s policies do not extend to maintaining confidences between employees. They should.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has made this point when dealing with a claim for harsh disciplinary action against a support person. The matter involved a company issuing a warning to a union delegate who had acted as a support person to another employee going through a disciplinary process. The delegate subsequently e-mailed details about the disciplinary process to other, uninvolved employees. When the company found out about that, it issued him the warning. He challenged this decision in the FWC.

The FWC said that while the delegate should have known better, in all the circumstances, the company was remiss in not making it clear that what went on in the disciplinary session was completely confidential. The FWC noted that the company had plenty of policies and procedures about the privacy of customers, sales, financial matters and medical records of staff but nothing about these situations.

The point FWC made here is that support personnel have an obligation to keep confidences but in some instances, it was also reasonable that this would not occur to an employee in that support role. FWC effectively said that employers need to take the initiative and advise of the requirement of confidentiality from support persons and include this requirement in company policies.