Ontario Bosses Now Need to Disclose Tracking of Work From Home Employees

Starting today, every business in Ontario with 25 or more employees will be required to inform workers if their work computers, phones, and other devices are being monitored by the employer (via CBC).

The requirement is part of the Working for Workers Act and makes Ontario the first province in Canada to have legislation on employee monitoring. Employers have 30 days to comply and disclose monitoring information to staff.

The Ontario legislation covers all employees using company-issued devices, from a GPS tracker on a delivery truck to emails on a work computer.

When COVID-19 forced workers into their homes, many businesses resorted to imposing electronic monitoring policies to keep a check on employee productivity.

Companies that make employee monitoring software, like Time Doctor, Hubstaff, and Teramind, saw interest in their products grow manyfold as soon as the pandemic hit. Some of the tools used in productivity tracking record keystrokes and even take screenshots of employees’ computers at regular intervals during work hours.

COVID-19 may have subsided, but work-from-home is here to stay. Many companies are still operating on a hybrid model that incorporates remote work.

The premise is even being embraced by Silicon Valley giants, with Facebook aiming to have half of its employees working remotely over the next decade and Airbnb giving all of its employees the freedom to work from anywhere in the world.

However, many see the practice of tracking employees as problematic and a potential breach of privacy. Opponents argue that employers that turn to employee tracking solutions may be headed down a slippery slope.

Mackenzie Irwin, an employment lawyer at Toronto-based Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said the new tracking disclosure rules are a good first step toward transparency.

“Once we know what they are actually doing, then we’ll have a better sense of whether those monitoring systems are breaching any other legislation.”

The Working for Workers Act doesn’t do anything to actually prevent businesses from tracking employees and doesn’t give them any new privacy rights — it merely requires employers to tell workers if they are monitoring them.

That said, Irwin expects that if employees know when and how they are being monitored, they will be more likely to take a stand for themselves if they feel uncomfortable. “They’re going to be pushing back on that,” she added.

In addition, the obligation of disclosure alone could discourage employers from overly intrusive monitoring.

Valerio De Stefano, a professor and Canada Research Chair in Innovation, Law, and Society at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, argued that tracking employees can sometimes end up being counterproductive. For one, it could result in workers foregoing qualitative work activities like mentoring co-workers in favour of quantitative ones.

“People, when they know that these systems are in place, spend much more time trying to game the system rather than actually focusing on work,” he said.

Instead, De Stefano said companies could benefit more from measuring employee productivity based on output rather than how they spend work hours.