Throughout the past year, we have placed health and safety as the highest priority. However, we must remain vigilant of privacy concerns amidst the measures we take to protect our staff and clients. Recently, Andrew Buck, a partner at Pitblado Law in Winnipeg gave a webinar presentation on issues surrounding privacy with regards to the unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrew’s areas of practice include corporate and commercial business, intellectual property, privacy and access to information, and technology transactions. In his presentation, he spoke on three key topics: collecting private information associated with health risks, workplace surveillance, and remote work considerations.

Collecting Private Information Associated with Health Risks

As mentioned earlier, health and safety are of the highest concern with regards to the pandemic. However, when considering the privacy of employees, it is important to collect and distribute pertinent information with tact and with balanced proportionality.

Andrew says that privacy issues arise from competing interests. For example, if one of your employees tests positive for COVID-19. As the employer, it is your duty to ensure that your workplace is safe for all employees. In this situation, you must communicate the information relevant to employee safety to your colleagues. Conversely, medical information is highly sensitive, and should not be spread without the consent of the employee it belongs to.

In situations like this, it is imperative to collect as little personal information as possible. Identify the objective and do as little as possible in collecting personal information in accomplishing that objective. In the previous example, it would be unnecessary for other employees to know who tested positive. They need only know that there was an exposure, where the individual was and when, and what they need to do.

Workplace Surveillance

Following the current pandemic-related restrictions, many businesses have staff working from home. But how should an employer monitor productivity among their employees?

First off, in most situations, most people consider it overkill to install keystroke monitoring software. According to Andrew, this is extremely privacy invasive and is viewed by most as a last resort only. Instead, communicate with your staff as you normally would using in-person substitutes like a phone call or an email. Monitor timesheets and work output.

Remote Work Considerations

First and foremost, Andrew emphasized that it is not safe to use unprotected public Wi-Fi. Do not use a free network to send confidential info in places like an airport, or a restaurant, etc. If you must send confidential information in public, use a VPN.

Additionally, Andrew advises to never leave your work laptop or physical files anywhere it can be stolen. If you lose a device, report that it is missing, change all passwords, and begin recovering any lost data.

Privacy is Key

At the end of the day, when dealing with private information, the benefits of any action you take must outweigh the drawbacks. This is the major takeaway from Andrew’s presentation. If you are unsure of what actions to take, or how to proceed in certain situations, Andrew’s advice should resonate: reach out to Public Health for assistance in exposure notification.