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Electronic monitoring: Recent research and a looming legislative deadline

Recent research into the harmful effects of electronic monitoring, both for workers and organizations, provides important context for a related Ontario law soon to come in force.  

More specifically, research involving the meta-analysis of 70 studies published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior Reports found electronic monitoring is a source of stress, negatively impacting job satisfaction, leading to counterproductive work behaviour, and adding nothing to job performance.

Main justifications cited by employers for the use of monitoring technology are to observe and maintain employee performance and organizational operations. Examples of what they are monitoring range from worker attendance and attentiveness to tracking physical movements, productivity data, along with email and social media postings.  
 
In summarizing their findings, the authors of this most recent research suggest, “These results question currently existing justifications for the use of electronic monitoring.” 

Register for related WHSC training Psychosocial Hazards and Workplace Mental Health
November 18, 1pm to 4pm (In virtual classroom)

Electronic monitoring on the rise

Still, a growing body of research including a 2021 Ryerson University report (now Toronto Metropolitan University) shows an acceleration of electronic monitoring of employees, expanding even quicker because of the pandemic. 
 
This same report found “Greater levels of perceived surveillance are correlated with higher negative attitudes toward this surveillance among employees. Monitoring tools perceived as excessive are also associated with higher employee turnover, absenteeism, weakened morale, reduced trust in management, and poorer relations between employees and employers.”
 
The authors suggest employers engaging in electronic monitoring be guided by several principles including transparency, clarity, and inclusion. Inclusivity speaks to the need to involve workers and worker representatives in the development, implementation and ongoing maintenance of electronic monitoring policies and practices.  
 
A new requirement here in Ontario will assist with this in some workplaces.

New legal mandate for electronic monitoring policy

Provincially-regulated employers covered by Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA) that employ 25 or more employees on January 1 of any year are required to have a written policy on electronic monitoring of employees. For 2022, the legal deadline to put in place a written policy is October 11 and employees must be provided a copy by November 10 at the latest. Beginning in 2023, a policy must be in place by March 1 of the current year. 
 
The policy must clearly state whether or not the employer electronically monitors employees. If they are monitoring employees electronically, the policy must include: 
  • a description of how and in what circumstances the employer may electronically monitor employees (i.e., monitoring access to work site, cell phone use, work on company networks and systems, along with location and movements of employees),
  • a description of the purposes for which information obtained through this monitoring may be used by the employer, including potential discipline,
  • the date the policy was prepared and the date any changes were made, and
  • such other information as may be prescribed (This last point leaves the door open to a regulation that sets further standards for electronic monitoring.)

The policy is required to capture all electronic monitoring, and not just monitoring of employer-provided equipment and devices. This might include, for instance, monitoring of an employee when they work from home using their personal computer. This might also include monitoring after work hours. 
 
As with other policies that impact worker health and well-being, consultation with joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) or worker health and safety representatives in smaller workplaces is always considered a best practice to ensure quality guidance is provided and intended outcomes achieved. Further to this point, JHSCs and HSRs have the right to make recommendations to employers for the improvement of the health and safety of workers and this can include input on a workplace electronic monitoring policy.  
 
In any case, employers insisting on monitoring employees might consider whether what they are tracking is necessary. Monitoring digital communication, for instance, may not be a reliable indicator of employee performance considering most have ready access to cell phones to undertake such communication external to employer oversight. Undertaking this type of monitoring is likely then to simply lessen the level of trust between employers and workers while achieving little if any positive outcomes. Instead, evaluating and discussing submitted work and the outcomes of worker efforts is a much more productive use of time.

Learn more
The impact of electronic monitoring on employees' job satisfaction, stress, performance, and counterproductive work behavior: A meta-analysis
Workplace surveillance: How do Canadians feel about employee monitoring?
Workplace surveillance and remote work (Ryerson University report)


In addition to training to promote workplace mental health, Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) also offers a range of training programs and information services aimed at preparing all workplace parties to play an informed role in pursuit of safer, healthier work, including the development and updating of an electronic monitoring policy. This includes mandatory and CPO-approved Certification Training for joint health and safety committee (JHSC) members along with similar training for worker health and safety representatives in smaller workplaces.  
 
WHSC Supervisor Training helps employers and supervisors meet and exceed awareness and competency requirements critical to their significant obligation to protect workers.   



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