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Coming to a Workplace Near You – Wearable Technology

By Thomas Cox
Fisher & Phillips LLP | @employeradvisor

Wearable Technology or “wearables” has become the latest rage. The term refers to anything electronic that is worn by the user. Not only have wearables moved from fad to reality, they have also moved into the modern workplace. With smart watches, activity monitors and other technology being worn by workers, this phenomenon has sparked a new debate regarding the privacy and ethical implications for management in this new data-rich reality.

Whether it’s technology that is woven into an athletic shirt, a watch worn by an employee, or technology embedded in an employee’s eyeglasses, wearable technology appears to be here to stay. The Harvard Business Review, recently referred to the practice of linking wearable computing devices with data analysis and feedback to improve performance as physiolytics. Physiolytics is now a part of the American workplace lexicon.

Several industries have fully embraced the use of wearable technology by workers to improve accuracy and performance. Companies use wearables to track and quantify employees’ movements and efficiency. For instance, warehouse workers use armbands to track order fulfillment, time and efficiency. Wearables are also used to monitor employee safety, such as the use of fatigue monitoring sensors, that notice when head or body movements suggest that an employee is tired or falling asleep. Micro sensors attached to the skin can be used  to monitor safe lifting practices. The healthcare, industrial and aviation sectors among others, are actively embracing wearable technology.

With all of this wearable technology in the workplace, an important question arises — can these tools be used to increase the bottom line without eroding employee privacy? For instance, can an employer give an employee an activity tracker as part of a wellness program and demand access to the data. A related concern by management is — can the use of this new technology by employees be controlled so that company trade secrets and other confidential information is not lost or misused?

For management, the concern is real. For instance, wearable technology in wrist watches and glasses could be used to take covert photographs or videos. An employee disciplinary action could be recorded using a wearable device and later used in a legal proceeding. Wearables could also be used as the source of increased co-worker harassment claims. Negligence and tort claims may also arise from wearable technology. Imagine the consequences to a company from a driver that is involved in an accident while viewing an embedded interactive screen in their glasses. What about an employee that uses data from an activity tracker to support an emotional distress claim? This is a whole new frontier.

Together with competent counsel, management and human resources, companies should make sure that all employee policies are updated to take wearable technology into account. Companies should also be aware and vigilant to avoid covert recording and harassment allegations.


Welcome to the future, where your employees themselves are part of the new technological frontier. AT

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