OHS Canada Magazine

Increased scrutiny of workers could jeopardize mental health

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August 5, 2021
By Kristina Vassilieva

Health & Safety Human Resources burnout COVID-19 Mental Health vaccines

Employee monitoring, inquiries on vaccination status could result in landmines: expert

Increased scrutiny of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic may not bode well for employers. (Farknot Architect/Adobe Stock)

The pandemic has been a challenging time. While employers have been doing more to support their workers’ mental health, some workplace decisions could be going against progress that has been made.

It is understandable that employers with remote workers might want to keep track of their productivity via monitoring programs.

However, increased scrutiny could add to the pressure workers already feel due to the pandemic, according to consulting firm Peninsula Canada’s head of health and safety, Hope McManus.

Other types of monitoring, such as tracking workers’ vaccination status, could also have negative consequences for those who struggle with mental health.

“Employers should be careful about how they manage sensitive topics such as vaccination and employee monitoring and seek professional counsel if they are unsure about their obligations under the law,” she said.


Workers’ mental health is suffering

Mental health is not a new topic, but it has become a bigger concern in the workplace as many employees faced layoffs, increased caregiving responsibilities and uncertainty throughout the pandemic.

These factors could be preventing some workers from preforming their best at work, especially if they are working remotely and having to deal with family responsibilities at the same time.

In response, some organizations have implemented employee monitoring programs to track workers’ productivity and attendance.

Increased use of employee monitoring programs

Employee monitoring programs have been used by some companies previously, but the pandemic has made them more popular. More employers are now monitoring staff when they are working at home, and this could have a negative impact on their mental health.

Workers might feel like their privacy is being invaded or that their employer does not trust them to complete their work and clock in their full hours.

“A lack of understanding between staff and their employers could damage their working relationship, lower morale and negatively impact a company’s productivity in the long run,” said McManus.

Scrutiny and stigma over vaccination status

Some workers may also feel their privacy is being invaded when it comes to their medical information. While most will be happy to get vaccinated, there will be those workers who do not want to or cannot for health reasons.

“Employers might want to ask workers about their vaccination status for management and health and safety purposes, but this could lead to unvaccinated staff feeling discriminated against or stigmatized”, said McManus.

“Workers’ mental health may further be affected if they face pressure or judgement from coworkers.”

Best practices for employers

When it comes to managing remote workers, employers need to be aware of the relevant legislation, their obligations to staff, and workers’ rights. Staying compliant with the law will help employers avoid HR mistakes and keep their businesses protected.

Employers can support workers by following HR best practices.

“To prevent any mental health consequences from employee monitoring, employers should consider whether the use of these programs is truly necessary or if they can be avoided. If not, employers should keep surveillance as non-invasive as possible,” said McManus.

For example, monitoring keystrokes and personal messages is more invasive than monitoring company emails, she said. Providing company equipment for work will allow employers to set certain expectations for the proper use of technology during work hours without crossing any boundaries with workers’ personal devices.

Employer advice for how to approach vaccination status

When it comes to tracking workers’ vaccination status, employers cannot ask for vaccination certificates, as this is considered private medical information. Instead, employers can request vaccination appointment confirmations as another form of evidence.

While employers cannot force workers to get vaccinated, they can educate workers and strongly encourage vaccination.

However, employers should not pry into why workers haven’t gotten vaccinated. Their reasons might be related to grounds protected under human rights legislation and pressuring or interrogating workers could result in a discrimination claim against the employer.

Reminding workers of appropriate conduct at work, to remain professional with their colleagues, and to raise any concerns with management can also prevent stigma and help prevent mental health consequences among unvaccinated staff.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.


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