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Privacy Commissioner lashes drilling firm over treatment of employee

Thursday 22nd December 2016

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The Privacy Commissioner has taken the unusual step of publicly censuring a Whanganui drilling company, TD Drilling, for not only failing to protect the confidentiality of information provided by an employee about drug use among its staff, but also losing much of the employee's personal records.

The company had already been ordered to pay its former employee, David Crichton, $22,115 after the Employment Relations Authority found that TD Drilling's actions had led to Crichton's constructive dismissal by failing to provide a safe workplace after he revealed a culture of substance abuse among fellow workers.

Today's statement from the Privacy Commissioner refers only to a Mr R and a Mr S, but the details match those that emerged from the ERA decision in March, in which Mr R is Crichton and Mr S is his boss, Euan Tweeddale.

Tweeddale revealed Crichton to other staff as the source of allegations of drug abuse at work, which left Crichton fearful of retaliation as some of his colleagues had a history of violence, imprisonment, and drug use. Tweeddale also later accused Crichton, in front of colleagues, of creating trouble in the workplace and while some TD Drilling employees failed drug tests, no action was taken against them. 

The Privacy Commissioner became involved when TD Drilling first withheld and then claimed to have lost employment information relevant to its employment dispute with Crichton, claiming the records were lost in an office move.

"Looking after employee information is a basic and important responsibility for all employers," the statement from the office of the privacy commissioner said. "It was especially so in this case, as there was a serious employment dispute. It is our view there was serious negligence or even recklessness in how this information and the information request was treated when a dispute arose.

"We note TD Drilling acted poorly throughout, including its behaviour that resulted in the employment dispute, and its subsequent behaviour throughout our investigation" and had not responded to offers an opportunity to comment.

"Our investigations are almost always confidential, but we considered applying our naming policy to publicly identify the company in order highlight bad practice, and to remind small businesses that they too have privacy obligations towards their employees. We remain concerned about the security of personal information of other employees in the company."

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