A man applied for a pawnbroker’s licence. On his application he gave his work address. The rejection letter from the Ministry of Justice referred to historical criminal convictions which he hadn’t disclosed to his employer.
Even though the letter was addressed to him, the letter was opened by a staff member and read by four company employees. The information contained in the letter then prompted his employer to sack him. The employer said the decision to sack the man was based on the information about his criminal history.
The man’s complaint to us raised issues under principle 11 of the Privacy Act which says an agency that holds personal information should not disclose the information. The purpose of principle 11 is to place limits on disclosure of personal information by one agency to another person or agency.
In this case, we were told that at no point was the letter disclosed to any person or agency outside a small number of relevant staff members.
We also found out that the man, when giving his employer’s PO Box as his address, had used a different first name. The man’s employer had hundreds of employees and it was company practice to open all mail unless it was specifically marked “addressee only” or “confidential”. Neither of these labels appeared on the envelope.
When the mail clerk did not recognise the name on the letter, it was given to a senior manager who opened the envelope. The letter was then passed to two other senior managers. The company said the decision to dismiss the man was based on the fact that he had completed his application dishonestly when he applied for the job. He had not been truthful about his criminal convictions.
We concluded the disclosure of the man’s personal information within the agency, and the use of that information to sack him, was not a breach of the Privacy Act. The information had been received unsolicited by the employer, and then used appropriately, and not disclosed more widely than necessary.