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Wearable Technology a Violation of Employee Privacy?

Performance-monitoring devices are become more prevalent in the workforce. These devices keep track of the day-to-day activities of employees in order to better gauge work performance. An ongoing concern is whether basic civil rights, in particular, right to privacy, are being violated through the use of these devices. These devices can be found everywhere. Even the police department has made use of body cameras to keep track of their police officers. How far can employers go in enforcing these devices?

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

There are many reasons why an employer would want to make use of such performance-monitoring devices. The first basic reason is that the employer will be able to manage the work efficacy of the employees. No matter what line of work they are in, the employer will be able to keep track of the individual’s work performance every step of the way. This is good and bad.

For one, the employee might feel uncomfortable knowing that their higher-ups will be able to monitor everything they do within that window of time. One other aspect to this that is often overlooked is that the employer may have a preconceived bias towards a certain employee (for whatever reason—race, gender, or even personal relationship with employer) that will cause employer to give more attention to that individual over other such employees. This is unfair because they will be unduly scrutinized for the same work done by others.  Camera

As for the positives, this new form of work surveillance, if you want to call it that, gives the employee incentive to stay on track and not fall behind. It will be a motivating force that will increase productive output. Furthermore, in the case of truck drivers and other such work responsibilities, it will keep them awake in the case of long working hours. A Rackspace study found that as a result of wearing these devices, employees are more productive and satisfied with their work.

Right to Privacy

Now to address the elephant in the room. What about basic civil rights violations? The biggest concern here is the right to privacy. Although the right to privacy is not expressly stated in the United States Constitution, it is referenced in a number of different contexts. The Fourth Amendment implies people have a right to be secure from any intrusions. Moreover, there is case law that strengthens this concept that has been in development for the past couple hundred years. Mass surveillance and privacy is an ongoing issue in various industries and it will remain at the forefront because the law in this area is vague and not clearly defined.

However, in general, it seems these performance-monitoring devices, although violating certain privacy rights, have enough benefits to them that it might not warrant stricter guidelines. Although employees are in a sort of panopticon (conceived by famed philosopher Foucault, a panopticon refers to a surveillance system where the person is constantly in fear of being punished), this new system works towards a better work experience. Whether the courts will take this into consideration remains to be seen.

As for the police force retaliating against the police department for abusing their rights, this is a matter that is not quite the same as a typical employer-employee dynamic. A police department is an arm of the government and as such, should be held to a higher standard. Unknowingly, police officers have been recorded with body cameras on their person. There has been outrage as a result. In light of recent police brutality that has garnered national attention, the police department has sought to make sure that their police officers are in compliance and do not act out of line.

This will speed up the evidence-gathering process if there ever comes a time when the officer is investigated for committing such activities. On the other hand though, there are privacy concerns. Should the police officer be obligated to wear such devices at all times? And it seems that the police department did not inform their officers of the use of such devices. One officer stumbled upon the body cameras. As this has been an issue that has received much press but little actual litigation, only time will tell what will come of this. The justice system needs to see this through.

Sam Behbehani

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