In short, an employer can tell an employee to do just about anything within the general constraints of the employee’s job description (whether one is written or not), provided that the request is: a) possible; b) reasonable; and c) legal. The question then becomes: is it possible, reasonable, and legal for an employer to tell you to use a camera during virtual meetings?

If you don’t have the technology to do so, then it’s not possible – but you should probably make this known to your employer if that’s the case, thus giving the company a chance to rectify the issue. Otherwise, it’s hard to see how this would not be possible.

To refuse an instruction that meets this threshold constitutes what the courts have called “insubordination,” which is generally grounds for employee discipline.

Is it reasonable? As with most legal questions, it depends! Most of the time, I would say it is. Think of it this way: if you were asked to attend a meeting in the physical office (sans Covid, of course), would it be reasonable to refuse to do so, offering only to attend by telephone from another location?  I’m sure most people would say that would be unreasonable –that is, unless you had a valid explanation to accompany it (more on that below). The same conclusion likely applies when the meeting is virtual.

You might then say, but I have “Zoom fatigue” and don’t want to use a camera during virtual meetings. To that, I say: do you have a medical condition that prevents or limits your ability to go on-camera? Some people might; for example, if being on camera causes debilitating anxiety, one might get a doctor’s note to substantiate this. If so, the employer’s “duty to accommodate” is triggered. If not, you can probably be disciplined for refusing a legitimate instruction. But fair warning: if that same employee is having regular Zoom calls with friends or family around the same time period, this defence may prove rather flimsy.

If you feel that your workplace rights are being violated and your employer is forcing you to use a camera during virtual meetings, we can help you determine whether you have a claim. We at Whitten & Lublin are happy to provide insight and advice into your specific circumstances. If you are looking for employment lawyers and would like more information about what Whitten & Lublin can do for you, please contact us online or by phone at (416) 640-2667 today.

Author: Daniel Chodos

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