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Some Canadians say remote employee tracking is justified. Others are dead set against it

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1:53:00Full Episode: Should Your Boss Track You Online?

An electronic employee monitoring system installed at Lori McEniry’s company helped determine when employees were sleeping at work while working from home. The person was eventually let go.

McEniry is the principal owner of Quebec-based Faxinating Solutions Inc., which employs about 40 people and serves the supply chain by processing invoices and purchase orders.

The tracking began after employees were forced to work from home in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“We monitor reports and look for periods during which reports are made. [employees] McEniry said: “We also check those times to see if there were enough transactions in the queue to process or if we were in a meeting.”

according to 2021 Report from Cybersecure Policy Exchange at Toronto Metropolitan Universityemployee surveillance has become more commonplace during the pandemic.

Opponents say tracking remote workers is worrying, citing personal security and privacy concerns regarding tactics such as keyboard surveillance, webcam surveillance and facial recognition programs.

Is your boss watching your work? some Canadians are trying to find it

Ontario requires employers to disclose whether they use productivity-tracking software to monitor their employees. Experts say this may address the issue of transparency, but companies should instead track production volumes.

McEniry’s company uses software that automatically generates reports at the end of the day, showing when and how many transactions each employee has processed.

“We have specific service level agreements with our clients that must be processed within a specific amount of time, so our employees have to be productive.”

McEniry says that everything employees do is measured and processed, including scheduled breaks, but they are also upfront about expectations such as break length.

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“We set a minimum period. [of inaction] it is flagged. And it’s not 5 minutes. It’s a little longer than that. But it’s like anything more than a standard coffee break. ”

As of this month, Ontario businesses with more than 25 employees are required to disclose information. It shows if and how they monitor their workers, making it the only province in Canada with laws on employee monitoring. Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec require employers to disclose data collection under privacy laws.

Rich Appiah, an employment attorney in Toronto, says companies need flexibility to monitor their employees as the workplace continues to evolve. (Submitted by Rich Appiah)

Rich Appiah, an employment attorney in Toronto, said the new law does not clearly state what employers can and cannot do. As such, employers have a responsibility to identify what they want to do at work and communicate that to their employees.

It also doesn’t specify how or if employees can complain about the surveillance, he added.

“The law doesn’t say employers can’t oversee, and there are absolutely no restrictions on oversight,” Appiah said. “There are no standards for what is appropriate and what is not.”

For provinces such as British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta, private and public sector workers have the right to lodge a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner, Appiah said. But he also said there’s not much they can do when companies tell you to install software on work devices.

“As our workplaces change, businesses become more creative and offer more services, we need to allow some flexibility in our ability to monitor our employees.

Jean-Nicolas Reyt says managers who want to monitor their staff’s keystrokes are comparable to parents who want to know where their children are. “They need teddy bears and security blankets to feel safe,” Leight said. ‘ (Courtesy of Jean-Nicolas Reyt)

Jean-Nicolas Reyt believes employee tracking is “short-sighted” and risks creating unhealthy and broken relationships in the workplace.

“The problem is that these metrics are typically a very poor proxy for performance,” says Reyt, an associate professor of business administration at McGill University. “It really doesn’t matter if people spend a lot of time in the office or behind a keyboard.”

Leight says that an employee’s relationship with their boss and employer can be a “complete psychological contract” that goes beyond a legal agreement between the two.

“That includes things like ‘Do I have my back?’ or ‘Do I feel like I’m in a place of respect?’ The absence of these factors poses a serious problem when employers are spying on their employees. ”

Ali Qadeer of Toronto says the distinction between work computers and home computers is arbitrary when it comes to private homes. (Photo by Flavia Lopez)

Ali Qadeer of Toronto says he is against monitoring employees remotely. This is especially true as more people than ever are working from home.

Qadeer, Associate Professor of Graphic Design at OCAD University, said:

He believes digital tracking has gone as far as threatening workers’ rights.

“If you’re part of a movement, if you have a problem at work, if you’re trying to organize a union, those ideas will spread to some extent, and conversations with people on smoking breaks and [at the] water cooler. But suddenly everything is logged when it’s remote configuration. ”

Vass Bednar says electronic surveillance in the workplace has become more sophisticated and “surprisingly common” in remote work situations. (Courtesy of Vas Bednar/McMaster University)

Vas Bednar, a public policy entrepreneur and adjunct professor at McMaster University, says that when companies track employees, they risk treating them more like robots than people. .

She said workers should be informed by whom and how their data is being collected, and if the content of the data collected has consequences, including termination of employment.

“I think it just recreates the distrust of management. Seeing at a glance what your co-workers are doing in what used to be the traditional workplace of hot desks, open concept, trendy offices. I can,” she said.

“Does that mean you should? Does it mean that you need to create records? Or do you mean that you need to store data?”


Using files from Jason Vermes and Nisha Patel.

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