Hospice worker's rights breached during investigation into unauthorised breaks, court upholds

The Court of Appeal upheld a decision that the employee's data protection rights were breached due to the use of CCTV footage in the course of the disciplinary investigation
Hospice worker's rights breached during investigation into unauthorised breaks, court upholds

The Court of Appeal has upheld a decision that a hospice employee's data protection rights were breached over the use of data from CCTV footage in a disciplinary investigation into unauthorised breaks.

The disciplinary action against Cormac Doolin arose as a result of an inquiry into graffiti which had been carved into a table of the staff tearoom saying: "Kill all whites, ISIS is my life".

The graffiti was found in the tearoom of Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Service in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, less than a week after terror attacks at the Bataclan and elsewhere in Paris in November 2015.

Hospice management contacted gardaí.

As a result of viewing who had gone into the tearoom over a three-day period, it prompted a disciplinary process against Mr Doolin, a craftsman's mate at the hospice.

There was no suggestion that Mr Doolin had any involvement in the graffiti incident.

Breaks

Hospice management viewed the footage which showed Mr Doolin entering the room on a number of occasions. This led to the disciplinary process and sanction against Mr Doolin for unauthorised breaks.

He complained about a breach of his data rights to the Data Protection Commission (DPC) which rejected the complaint.

The DPC was satisfied that the processing of his personal data (his image), without downloading or further processing, was necessary for the purpose of security (relating to the graffiti incident) and did not go beyond that purpose. He appealed to the Circuit Court which upheld the DPC decision.

Mr Doolin then appealed to the High Court which found the DPC had erred in law and had made an incorrect interpretation of "processing" under the terms of the Data Protection Act 1988.

The DPC appealed that decision to the Court of Appeal (CoA) which upheld the High Court's decision.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, on behalf of the three-judge appeal court, said it seemed to him that it could not reasonably be said that Mr Doolin had either been notified that the CCTV could be used for disciplinary purposes, or that there was any basis upon which he ought reasonably to have expected such use.

The judge said "the contrary is much more likely to be the case".

It was also clear Mr Doolin’s data was indeed used for a purpose other than, and incompatible with, the specified purpose and was therefore unlawful, he said.

Mr Justice Noonan also said there had already been three appeals in this case in which the costs involved were entirely disproportionate to the issue involved.

He added there could yet be an appeal to the Supreme Court, stating there was no "obvious necessity" for such a multiplicity of appeals.

The situation arising in the case was by no means unique as there are other similar statutory provisions providing for such layers of appeal, he said.

"It is to be hoped that the legislature will address this issue soon", he added.

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