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Wearables in the workplace

Wearables in the workplace

10 June 2015

How wearable tech could affect your employees’ rights 

In 2010, a scientist from Reading University became the first man to become infected with a computer virus, after he implanted a microchip to tag pets in his hand. Five years later, wearable and embedded devices are everywhere; you can now buy smart- watches, -cards, -wristbands, -jewellery, -earbuds, GPS and radio-frequency identification. A number of these may allow employers to keep track of their employees and monitor their performance. 

Opportunities for exploiting wearable devices are boundless, but so are the risks of protecting employee data and privacy rights. As an employer, you need to be aware of – and comply with – employee data protection and privacy laws, which may limit how you use these devices. 

What risks could you face?

If you’re not careful, your company could face fines and criminal sanctions. For instance, a German company was fined for breaching an employee’s privacy rights after tracking his car when it was used for non-work business (in fact, he was visiting a woman with whom he was allegedly having an affair).

Even without penalties, headlines suggesting your company breaches employees’ privacy rights could harm your reputation. Amazon faced a media storm in 2013, for example, after it came to light that it tracked its warehouse ‘pickers’ – the staff who collect items customer have ordered –to record their speed, performance and mistakes. 

Or consider Germany’s second-largest retailer, Lidl, which has made headlines several times for monitoring its employees. Justified or not, the allegations triggered negative press coverage.

Negotiating with works councils 

If you’re an employer in the UK or in the US with operations in Europe, you also need to keep in mind the possible requirement to consult with the works councils, who may have information and consultation rights when wearable devices are introduced. 

In some jurisdictions, there may be information and consultation rights even if the technology is not aimed at checking up on employees. Works councils could prevent you from introducing the technology if not properly implemented.

As the popularity of wearable devices grows, so will data protection and privacy issues – and legal challenges. Make sure you’re prepared for the changes; taking action now will mean you’re protected from legal consequences later on.

Further reading on wearable technologies and global employment rights: what modern lawyers need to know.