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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Employee monitoring

German clockmaker Peter Henlein developed a clock that could be worn around one’s neck in the early 1500’s. Called the Nuremberg Egg, the device had a miniature torsion pendulum and coil spring that allowed it to keep fairly accurate time. Since then humans have been obsessed with wearable devices to provide feedback and information on everything from the time to the weather to biometric data. Today’s technology adds the ability to track the device and by association the wearer.


GPS technology hit the public aviation sector in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s automakers began installing GPS navigation services in their vehicles. Once navigational systems were installed it was a short leap to use the GPS data to track where the vehicle had been by downloading the data. The next step was live tracking of the vehicle, which is commonplace today for most fleet operations and emergency services. The miniaturization of the technology allowed GPS services to be installed in phones and wearable devices.

Businesses have been tracking their fleets for some time. Not only as an accountability measure but also as a way to collect and analyze data to improve routes. In the last several years, companies have been using GPS data from Smartphone’s to track employee locations. Most recently, companies have been issuing employee wearable devices that not only track their location but also performance and sometimes health data.

Wearable devices have become a $15 billion a year market, mostly charged by the introduction of the Fitbit in 2009 and the Apple watch in 2015. As with fleet tracking, business is not missing out on the ability to track employees.

Managers can monitor employee location and production to better understand the needs of the workplace. Studies have shown that employees that are tracked do have better performance. There have been myriad studies over the years that suggest workers perform better not because of new technologies but because they are being watched. Which overall benefits the company.


There are legal concerns that have been raised, such as invasion of privacy regarding intrusiveness into the employee’s activities and health data. Some of the devices allow the monitors to see biometric data, which could reveal an employee health issue violating privacy laws.

As the courts and laws catch up with technology the question of legality can be gray. Like phone call/text data and location, data from tracking devices are becoming the status quo for evidence collection. Data from tracking devices have been used for years in auto collision court cases. Personal fitness wearable device data has just recently been introduced to the courts in personal injury cases and police investigations.
Most of the questions arise regarding invasion of privacy, especially outside of the workplace. Company owned vehicles, so far, appear to be legal to install GPS devices and track. However, when a company puts a device on an employee’s personal vehicle it gets trickier. Even company owned vehicles could be targeted as any issue or law can be questioned in court.

Company owned Smartphones seem to fall in the category of the vehicles regarding privacy. Employees don’t have much of a case until the employer requires the use of the phone out side of the workplace, during the employee’s personal time.

Wearable devices issued by a company to employees have not yet been used in a court case. Anytime data is being collected, it is only a matter of time before one party uses the data against the other. Whether it is company v. employee or vice versa.

As with any company policy, how the employees are informed of the policy and how it is implemented goes a long way in keeping the business out of court. As cases start to go through the courts and company policy is examined, the court decisions will affect how policy is shaped from thereon. Simply, one bad policy or managerial decision can change the landscape for everyone.

Worker’s rights advocates will be watching the use of wearable technology in the workplace. As with any new rule of law or technological application businesses should be cautious to jump on the bandwagon until they have thoroughly researched the use of such devices and the end goals for collecting the data.

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