217.370.8505 cory@bletislb.org

Canada’s largest railway company is being accused of tracking more than just its trains and freight.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which is the union that represents 5,500 Canadian National railway employees, alleges CN has been monitoring the whereabouts of a train operator outside of work hours through a company-issued tablet.

“It’s spying, it’s wrong and it’s illegal in our view” according to Teamsters Canada’s director of public affairs Christopher Monette, who adds “on top of it being creepy, it’s downright dystopian. It’s something that shouldn’t be happening.”

The union says they have reason to be concerned that a large number of CN Rail employees may have also had their location tracked by the company during their own personal time after work.

Speaking to CTV National News, Monette says that CN “didn’t tell us this was going on and they didn’t seek consent from workers to use geolocation data” from their company-issued devices and believes CN was trying to keep their tracking methods secret.

“We only found out about this by accident, through a disclosure process where the company was forced to disclose why they were disciplining a worker,” according to Monette.

CTV National News asked CN for an interview, which the company declined. They also wouldn’t confirm or deny if they’ve been tracking the location of one or more of their employees through company-issued tablets.

CN spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis sent a brief email statement stating that the company “uses data from GPS to ensure the safety of its employees while on duty, as well as its equipment and property.”

“We are in discussions with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference regarding this matter, so we will decline to comment further.”

The allegations raise larger questions for millions of Canadian workers who’ve been given company-issued laptops, phones, or other devices.

Employment lawyer Stuart Rudner says he often hears from clients “talking about their right to privacy and suing for invasion of privacy. The reality is there is very little legislation in Canada dealing with privacy.”

In 2022, Ontario was the first province in the country to release electronic monitoring legislation. The recent law, dubbed the “Working for Workers Act”, doesn’t stop employers from using surveillance software to monitor their workforce – as long as they’re transparent about how they’re tracking their staff.

“Where companies get into trouble is when they don’t tell employees they’re being monitored,” says Rudner. “It’s going to be pretty hard to think of a legitimate business reason to track someone outside of their work hours.”

During the pandemic, more people began working from home which resulted in more companies purchasing and upgrading software that tracks the productivity and location of their staff outside of the traditional office space.

Cyber security analyst and lawyer Ritesh Kotak believes employees who have a work phone, tablet or laptop should try and purchase their own personal devices to use off work hours.

“These high-tech problems have really low-tech solutions,” Kotak says.

He also says that he uses a tab to cover the camera on his work computer when he’s not on a video call. Kotak adds that, if possible, employees should turn their work devices onto airplane mode off work hours.

“It’s important to understand that information (from your devices) is being collected on a continuous basis by the employer, it’s probably being stored and there maybe third parties who have access to it.”

Monette believes that “workers across the country, in all industries, really need to be mindful of this.”

The Teamsters union says they plan to fight CN, confirming that their lawyers are in the process of sending a complaint to the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.