Workplaces commonly have to collect and handle personal information of their employees during the course of a person's employment. For example:
- employee records and personnel files
- referee reports
- workplace surveillance such as checking employee email and internet use, and use of optical and listening devices.
Are employee records covered by the Privacy Act?
The Privacy Act deals with employee records of public sector and private sector employees differently. Under the Privacy Act, the handling of your personal information by a private sector employer is exempt from the Act if it is directly related to:
- your current or former employment relationship
- an employee record relating to you.
This means that a private sector employer does not need to comply with the National Privacy Principles (NPPs) in the Privacy Act when it handles current and past employee records. The employer also does not have to grant you access to your employee records (which would otherwise be a requirement of the NPPs).
It is important to note that the employee records exemption relates to private sector organisations only. Australian and ACT government employee records would be covered by the Act.
For more information about the employee records exemption, and other Privacy Act exemptions, see www.privacy.gov.au/materials/types/infosheets/view/6544.
I applied for a job and didn't get it; can I get access to my personal information held by the employer?
If you applied for a job and were unsuccessful, the employee records exemption (discussed above) does not apply and you may be able to ask for access to information related to you.
How can I access my referee reports?
For information about access to referee reports see www.privacy.gov.au/faq/individuals/q6.
What does the Privacy Act say about surveillance in the workplace?
The Privacy Act does not cover the issue of workplace surveillance. State and Territory surveillance laws are more likely to be relevant. For the relevant State and Territory surveillance legislation see www.privacy.gov.au/law/states.
Further information about the monitoring of workplace activities is available at www.privacy.gov.au/topics/surveillance. The Office has also released advisory guidelines on Workplace Email, Web Browsing and Privacy.
Other places to go
- The Privacy Commissioner has authority under the Crimes Act 1914 to investigate alleged breaches of the "Spent Convictions Scheme", which allows individuals with old minor convictions not to disclose them in certain circumstances. See www.privacy.gov.au/law/other/criminal.
You can find more information about your rights in the workplace from the:
- Australian Government's Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
- Australian Industrial Relations Commission
- Fair Work Ombudsman
- Industrial Relations Commission or Tribunal in your State or Territory.
If you think an agency or organisation has misused your personal information, you can make a complaint. To find out more, see Complaints.