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Can my employer make me take a COVID-19 test?

Question
Can my employer make me take a COVID-19 test?

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Can my employer make me take a COVID-19 test?
Reviewed: 
August 7, 2020
Answer

There are rules about what kind of medical information employers can make you give them. For example, sometimes, they can make you take medical tests, such as an alcohol or drug test, if you have a serious accident at work.  

It's still not clear which tests your employer can make you take for COVID-19. The information below is based on what we know at this time.

Workplace testing

Employees have a right to privacy, including privacy about their health. This means that an employer cannot normally force you:

  • to tell them your medical information, or
  • do a medical test unless they have a good reason.

To decide whether your employer can ask you about your medical information, a court will balance your right to privacy with the employer's need for the information.

The law says that employers have a legal duty to provide a safe workplace.

One of the risks that employers need to protect against is COVID-19. This means that they may need some of your medical information about COVID-19 to protect other employees or the public. Because of this, employers can ask for more information than normal.

Protecting against COVID-19

The government of Ontario has told employers that they should "screen" employees for COVID-19  by asking whether they've had:

  • any symptoms, or
  • any contact with people who have the virus.

You probably do have to answer these questions because this advice comes from public health authorities and COVID-19 is an emergency situation.  

But it's not clear how much more an employer can make you do.

Checking your temperature

Your employer may want to check your temperature before you can go into your workplace.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission says that temperature checks may be okay. These tests can be done using an infrared thermometer that checks your temperature by being pointed at your forehead. Your employer can probably do this because:

  • it's not very invasive, since nothing is inserted into your body, and
  • the risk of COVID-19 is serious.

Doing a swab test

Most employers will not be allowed to force you to take a swab test. This is because a swab test is a lot more invasive than a temperature check. To do the swab test for COVID-19, a swab is inserted deep into your nose.

Some employers, such as healthcare providers, may be allowed to do swab tests. This is because the risk of someone getting COVID-19 in those types of workplaces is greater than an employee's right to privacy.  

What your employer can do with the information

If your employer takes any kind of test, they must do it in a way that respects your right to privacy. This means that they must collect as little information as possible. And they can share the information only with people who need to know.

Get more information and legal help

For more information about what tests your employer can make you take, contact the Ministry of Labour's Employment Standards Information Centre.

If you're not sure that your employer is following the law, get legal help.

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