Do you need an electronic employee monitoring policy?

Do You Need an Electronic Monitoring Policy to Hire in Canada? 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to adopt remote work policies. As a result, many employers turned to monitoring technologies to ensure their employees were working efficiently. While electronic monitoring can improve productivity, it can also hurt it. Employers must consider how monitoring impacts employee performance in the long term, and their employees’ right to privacy.

In response, legislatures are rolling out expanded privacy legislation, focusing on how, why, and when employers are monitoring their employees.  

The province of Ontario, Canada is one such jurisdiction. In this blog, we’ll go over what electronic monitoring is and the legal limits and requirements in Canada. We’ll look at the best practices for writing an electronic monitoring policy. And what this all means for international companies hiring in Canada!

What is Electronic Monitoring?

When it comes to the workplace, electronic monitoring refers to the use of technology to track and monitor the behaviour and activities of employees and contractors. This can include monitoring emails, internet usage, phone calls, location tracking, and computer activity, among other things. 

There are several types of electronic monitoring, including keystroke monitoring, which records every keystroke a user makes on their computer; video surveillance, which captures footage of employees at work; and GPS tracking, which tracks an employee’s location using a mobile device. 

Employers introduce electronic monitoring for many reasons, including to increase productivity, prevent theft or other misconduct, ensure compliance with company policies and regulations, and protect company assets. However, it can also raise concerns about privacy and employee autonomy, and many companies have policies in place to govern its use.  

Just like remote work itself, states are increasingly legislating how, why, and when employers can monitor their workforce.

Risks and Benefits of Electronic Monitoring

Employee monitoring comes with risks and benefits.

The risks of employee monitoring include: 

  • Invasion of privacy: Employee monitoring can feel intrusive to employees and may violate their privacy. It can lead to a culture of mistrust and lower morale, which can harm productivity. 
  • False accusations: Monitoring systems can sometimes generate false alarms and false accusations, leading to unwarranted disciplinary action and creating resentment among employees. 
  • Legal liabilities: Monitoring can sometimes violate laws related to privacy and data protection, potentially exposing companies to legal liabilities. 
  • Distraction: Employees may feel constantly monitored, leading to increased stress and distraction, which can harm productivity and creativity. 

That said, there are some benefits to employee monitoring:  

  • Security: Monitoring is essential to prevent unauthorized access and data breaches and protect sensitive company information.  
  • Productivity and Training: Where excessive time tracking can backfire, project-oriented tracking helps managers identify bottlenecks, coaching needs, and inefficiencies. Likewise, recording client-facing calls and emails provides continuity of service, and can be used for training purposes.

What is Canada’s Employer Electronic Monitoring Law? 

Canada limits how, when, and why employers can monitor employees through the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). Employers may:

  • Collect personal and financial information on their employees
  • Monitor their email, phone, and internet usage
  • Use keystroke and webcam monitoring software

But this information gathering should

  • Serve significant business needs
  • Be limited, and targeted in scope
  • Have good safeguards in place

That is, employers can collect personal information if it’s for employment purposes. They can also monitor employee activity so long as it serves core business needs such as security, safety, and productive use of time.  

PIPEDA requires organizations to protect personal information with security safeguards appropriate to the sensitivity of the information. If an individual has a complaint about an organization’s handling of their personal information, they can file a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who has the power to investigate and make recommendations or orders to address the complaint. 

All employers operating in Canada, including international companies with small local teams or subsidiaries, must comply with PIPEDA. Employees can lodge complaints about privacy violations with the Privacy commissioner.

What is the Ontario Electronic Monitoring Law?

In addition to Canadian privacy legislation, the province of Ontario requires that employers with 25 or more employees must have a written policy in place regarding electronic monitoring of employees. The Ontario government introduced this requirement in a 2022 amendment to the Employment Standards Act, the Working for Worker’s Act.

In your electronic monitoring policy you must explain when, why and how you are collecting data. You must also make the policy readily accessible to employees. Employers may collect data for various purposes including security, safety, performance management, and discipline. While the electronic monitoring amendment does not impose limits on how much data can be collected, you should keep other privacy rules in mind. Ensure that monitoring

  • Serves core business needs
  • Is minimally invasive
  • Is PIPEDA compliant

The amendment applies to

  • All full and part-time employees
  • Employees on assignment from a staffing agency, or hired through an Employer of Record
  • Unionized and non-unionized employees
  • Employees who are laid off, on leave, or on strike

Should your Canadian workforce grow to 25 or more employees during a given year, you must have an electronic monitoring policy in place by March 1st of the following year.  

All employers operating in Ontario must comply with the Employment Standards Act, whether they are locally or internationally based. International businesses looking to hire in Ontario should consult an expert, such as an employment lawyer or Employer of Record provider, on their monitoring requirements.  

How to Write an Employee Electronic Monitoring Policy

Ontario employers with 25 or more employees must have an electronic monitoring policy. However, having a policy is a good idea for all employers, no matter their size or where they operate. As the country’s largest province, Ontario is often a trendsetter regarding legislation. Electronic monitoring amendments are working their way through other provincial legislatures; in the coming years some will become law.

And employment standards aside, all employers must comply with PIPEDA when gathering data about and monitoring their workers, employees, and contractors alike.  

Like all human resources policies, your electronic monitoring policy should be written in plain language and accessible to new employees. Including it in your handbook or orientation package is a good idea. Clearly explain when, why, and how you collect data on employees, how long you will keep it, and how you will keep it secure. It can be a full-length, detailed policy, or just a paragraph.

Update your policy regularly to keep pace with current company practices; but keep copies of previous versions for up to three years.  

Have your policy vetted by an expert, such as an employment lawyer or Employer of Record, to ensure that it is compliant with PIPEDA and the Ontario Employment Standards Act, and that you don’t inadvertently incur any additional legal liabilities.

How Canadian Payroll Services Helps International Business Stay Compliant

Employment law compliance can be challenging for local employers, never mind for international companies hiring in Canada. Canadian Payroll Services is an Employer of Record provider specializing in helping international companies hire quickly and compliantly in Canada.

Whether you want to open a local subsidiary and outsource your payroll or have us hire Canadian remote workers on your behalf, we help you stay compliant! We provide all the locally compliant employment agreements, handbooks, and documents you need, as well as in-depth employment law updates, and ongoing HR support. We keep on top of legislative changes like Canada’s evolving privacy laws, so you don’t have to.

Want to learn more about how Canadian Payroll Services can help? Get in touch!  

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