British Columbia

Here's what your boss can and can't ask about your pandemic travel plans, according to an employment lawyer

Andrea Raso, a Vancouver-based employment and human rights lawyer, says personal information requested concerning an employee's travel plans should be as limited as possible while also balancing the need to keep others in the workplace safe.

'The personal information that should be collected should be as limited as possible', Andrea Raso says

Employers can't prevent you from going somewhere, but they can take the necessary steps to ensure you don't risk infecting co-workers when you get back, according to a Vancouver human rights and employment lawyer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

If you're planning to take a road trip this summer, do you have to tell your boss about it?

Some employers are asking staff to report inter-provincial travel plans to try to reduce the risk of bringing COVID-19 into the workplace — requests that can pit an employee's right to privacy against the employer's need to protect their workforce.

But both parties actually have obligations to the greater good — within reason, a Vancouver-based employment lawyer says.

Andrea Raso, senior employment and human rights lawyer at Clark Wilson LLP, said provincial legislation permits a degree of privacy for employees and, typically, they would not have to disclose personal travel information.

However, she said, during a pandemic, employers are also obligated to keep the workplace safe and healthy for everyone.

"The underlying premise under the privacy legislation is reasonableness," said Raso on CBC's The Early Edition on Thursday.

She said given the current situation, it is reasonable to ask an employee where they have travelled given the obligation to create a healthy environment for other employees.

But, said Raso, that information does not have to get into the particulars of where you stayed, such as a resort or in a private home.

"The personal information that should be collected should be as limited as possible," said Raso.

Bosses and boundaries

It is also, according to Raso, not appropriate for an employer to ask you to cancel your trip, even if you are planning to travel to an area in B.C. where an outbreak has been identified.

"That oversteps their boundary," said Raso, adding a boss cannot prevent an employee from going somewhere but can take necessary steps to ensure the staff member does not come back into the workplace and infect co-workers. 

If one of those steps is to tell the employee to stay home and self-isolate, then Raso says the employee must be paid during that time, if they are not collecting CERB or unemployment insurance during that time.

"If the employer is unilaterally withholding the employee out of the workplace, then that employee should be compensated," she said.

B.C. has seen a recent spike in new infections, with 102 new confirmed cases between Friday and Monday, 30 on Tuesday and 34 on Wednesday.

According to Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry, there are close to 1,000 British Columbians currently self-isolating at home.

With files from The Early Edition

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