Ontario Government to Add Work Protections from Employer Surveillance

It’s been said before, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work in more ways than one, and while many people probably enjoy the freedom of being able to work from home, how and when you’re working, as well as what else you’re doing on a work computer, could be being monitored by the boss. Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton apparently doesn’t like the sound of that, and wants to take steps to protect workers.

“Today, businesses have more ways than ever before to monitor where their workers are and what they are doing. Whether you are a delivery person being followed by GPS, a construction worker using a company phone, or an office worker logging in from home, you deserve to know if and how you are being tracked,” said McNaughton in a statement Thursday. “The future of work is changing, which is why our government is leading the country to ensure workers remain in the driver’s seat.”

This new legislation, which could come before MPPs before the end of the month on Monday, will require all workplaces with 25 employees or more to have a policy in place for the electronic monitoring of workers, up to and including whether the employer is using electronic monitoring. Employers will also have to disclose how and in what circumstances the employer does this, and the purpose of collecting information through electronic monitoring.

If the legislation is passed by the Government of Ontario it would be the first of it’s kind in Canada, and it would apply to employees that work from the office in addition to those that work from home.

It sounds good, but atlas one group noted some concerns. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association welcomed the announcement and called it a “small first step” towards fixing an issue that’s needed addressed for a while now. Still, transparency is also a matter of practice, they warn.

“First, it has to be noted that while transparency requirements sound worker-friendly, how they are implemented will make a difference between their being useful or devolving into a tick-box during an employee orientation,” said Brenda McPhail, Director of Privacy, Technology & Surveillance Program at CCLA. “It’s one thing to be told how and why you’re being watched in a workplace, but absent any requirement for employers to limit their monitoring to that which can be meaningfully justified, it could end up being an exercise in frustration for employees (and similarly counterproductive for employers).”

McPhail said there needs to be other options entrenched in the way that employers supervise their workers digitally including the use of “less intrusive” options, employee consultation, training for people that work with data, and regular audits and evaluations.

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