Can my employer ask me about my personal life outside work during the pandemic?

Between the ongoing anti-Black racism protests, provinces cautiously reopening, and the temptation to gather with friends again as summer looms, do employers — concerned about workplace safety during a pandemic — have the right to ask their staff what they’ve been up to on their personal time?

Jon Pinkus is a Toronto employment lawyer and partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP. He joined host Kristy Cameron on Newstalk 580 CFRA to explain an employee’s rights and an employer’s limits on a worker’s activity outside the workplace.

Has COVID-19 changed an employee’s right to privacy and an employer’s responsibility to maintain a safe workplace?

Employers still have an obligation to maintain a safe workplace. They must balance this need to ensure a safe work environment with their employees’ rights to privacy.

What questions can an employer ask an employee about their habits and life outside the workplace?

During the coronavirus pandemic, an employer can legitimately ask an employee if they have been in a large group of people without wearing a mask. An individual has a greater chance of contracting the virus if they among others without wearing proper PPE, such as a face mask. An infected individual could then inadvertently spread the coronavirus to coworkers through the workplace.

What an employer should avoid doing is asking an employee if they have attended an anti-racism rally. Doing so could be a human rights violation.

Other areas covered by the conversation:

  • Can my employer ask me who I am socializing with and what activities I am involved in during the pandemic?
  • I work at home, and my employer learned through social media that I took part in a protest or gathering without social distancing. Can I be punished?
  • Ontario government’s new rule on layoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic and how it impacts employee rights.
  • How should an employer inform an employee that their temporary layoff is now permanent?
  • Firing employees through a Zoom call.
  • Can a union representative visit an employee’s home to inspect their workplace?

Learn more about your rights during the coronavirus pandemic through our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Knowledge Centre, where you can find resources about your employment rights during COVID-19.

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