April 23, 2020

Privacy and COVID-19: How Do We Return to Work Safely?

As governments in North America look to reopen their economies, the big question for society is “are we safe?” Can everyone return to public transit, crowded elevators and workplaces safely?

One strategy to ensure a safe workplace is through the use of aggressive testing and technology. With respect to technology, countries such as Taiwan and South Korea have used Apps that track citizens, monitor their travel to coronavirus ‘hot spots’ and identify who they may have been in contact with. The Apps have also been useful to make sure they respect quarantine measures and do not leave their homes. Can this technology be implemented in North America and its workplaces?

Survey Results

We conducted a survey of our employer clients to determine how likely they were to adopt technology that required employees to disclose a high degree of private information. The responses indicate that Canadian employers are uncomfortable with such invasive technology, even if that would help open the economy sooner. Here are the results:

  1. Before the current pandemic, were you sensitive about sharing your location data with third-party Apps?

Yes 75.0%
No 25.0%

  1. Would you download an App that collected your location and could identify all the people that you had come into contact with for public health purposes?

Yes  41.7%
No   58.3%

  1. Would you download the App if it shared information with the Police so they could ensure you were staying in quarantine?

Yes  0.0%
No  100.0% 

  1. For those who answered No to the question above, would you download the App and share this information with the police if that would help lift the current lockdown?

Yes 40%
No 60%

  1. Would you require your employees to download the App as a condition of continued employment? (as a strategy to keep the workplace safe)

Yes  41.7%
No  58.3%

One striking result is that 100% of respondents were against using an App that would share information with the Police.  However, 40% of this same group would agree to such a measure if that would help lift the current lockdown and facilitate a return to normal economic activity.   While still in the minority, it does shows the tension that exists between maintaining control over personal information and potentially allowing such intrusions where that allows for more economic freedom.


In order to reopen the workplace safely, employers should consider both the physical measures that will be taken to ensure employees are healthy and how technology can assist those efforts.  We are hosting a webinar on April 29th on workplace safety and privacy concerns.   Please click here to register.