Wearable Technology in the Workplace – Possible Threats | DCR Workforce Blog

Wearable Technology in the Workplace – Possible Threats

Does your employer issue devices to track activity, well-being, or posture correction? How about other gadgets to decide the discounts on your health insurance, monitor how you work or where you are located, or measure the quality of the air around you? Do you wear Google Glasses while on the job so your manager can monitor the processes you follow? Are these devices making you more productive and protecting your interests, or are they threatening your privacy? What threats do they pose to businesses when misused?

Technology today is not only ubiquitous but also portable. Just as businesses were thinking they handled all possible issues regarding BYOD (‘Bring Your Own Device’) policies, a whole new threat is emerging. Policies now need to be put in place to mitigate possible risk from the presence of wearable technology at the workplace. Undoubtedly, wearables at the workplace are set to have a disruptive effect on the way businesses and workers operate.

Wearables in the workplace have capabilities which transcend those of previously introduced computing devices. Many more known and unknown applications are set to improve these capabilities, enabling them to inadvertently or deliberately interfere with privacy, intellectual property rights and confidentiality by acting as secret surveillance cameras and wiretaps.

Wearable Technology and What they Offer

Let us look at the possibilities offered by wearable technology and how they would affect employers, workers and workplaces:

  • When workers constantly take selfies everywhere they go, tweet about their activities at work, and record conversations and videos they could inadvertently violate the privacy and confidentiality of their employer and co-workers.
  • Use of eyeglasses or other wearables which record audio and video conversations could prove criminally offensive if used in an environment where meetings are held in private, behind closed doors.
  • Today’s devices are multi-purpose. Devices that secretly intercept oral communication are prohibited under the wiretap laws of different states. The ban applies even if the device has many other features which are of a more useful nature and which do not violate the privacy of anyone. So, the very need to decide the capabilities of the device makes it very hard for a business to decide what to ban and what to allow.
  • The jury is still out on whether the use of a prohibited technology, wearable or not, is punishable when it is used to record the evidence of illegal or criminal behavior. But, one must ensure that this does not violate privacy laws and constitutional protections.
  • The courts historically have struggled to keep pace with the implications of technological innovation, particularly as it applies to electronic information. While a conversation that occur is a room with a closed door can be considered private, what about a discussion that occurs via a webinar? What deterrents can ensure that the discussion is not being recorded?
  • Employers may need to explain how the information gathered will be used and what benefits accrue from it when asking an employee to wear a device.
  • Spooked by the thought of ‘a Watching Big Brother’; workers would rather not be forced into wearing any device sponsored by the employer. They fear that their performance or health-related data may be used for a negative comparison with that of their peers and could set them up as targets when the company downsizes.
  • Employees’ consent may be an essential part of the plan to use a device. This may require notice and negotiation with employees or their unions and companies may need to obtain written consent. Making sure that the data collected is aggregated across a group could help with the effort as well the assurance of privacy to individuals.
  • Businesses which use these devices to access their network or premises may find themselves at risk of entry or access to premises by unauthorized persons should the device be stolen or misplaced.
  • Companies may find themselves arbitrating disputes between workers when one elects to publicly post photos or names of co-workers who choose to remain anonymous.

Employers need to set relevant policies to manage the use of wearables at the workplace. The policies must also explicitly apply to all workers, including contingent labor. Contractual agreements with the staffing agencies that supply workers must require enforcement of these policies. Most corporate policies are reviewed annually. In this case, a quarterly review/revision may be required to keep pace with the rapid introduction of innovative new gadgets.

Do write in and share with us the top 3 concerns you or your company have in terms of misuse of wearable technology. We will compile results and publish it in a future blog. In the meantime, keep an eye out for more blogs on this controversial subject.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.