Workplace wearables open up a murky legal hinterland

As wearables become more common for personal use, they are also increasingly being used by employers in the workplace. This new technology is giving employers new tools to track safety and productivity, and allowing insurers to track employee habits and health indicators. But just as the options for wearable tech proliferates, so do the related legal and privacy issues.

Companies are increasingly embracing the habit of tracking any and all data possible to create efficiencies and boost the bottom line. But a recent MarketWatch article explored many of the subsequent legal concerns that are cropping up in this emerging age of workplace wearables.

For employers that mandate wearables in the workplace, it’s incumbent on them to develop clear rationales and policies explaining why data is being collected and limits of its use, said Jason Geller. Geller is a partner with U.S. law firm Fisher & Phillips who specializes representing employers in labour and discrimination cases.

Workplace wearables might get you a raise – or fired

He says that employers are more frequently justifying raises, firings and promotions through productivity data. But if the data indicates an employee is becoming less active, and she is subsequently penalized for that, it leaves the employer open for a potential claim of discrimination against someone who has a disability or is less healthy.

“The employer may need to ask itself, ‘Do I need to initiate a discussion with this employee about whether the productivity was related to a disability?’ ” Geller said.

Companies that collect data relating to employee activity may be particularly vulnerable to discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  As an example, employers might need to assess data for the possibility that a worker may have a physical disability that should be subject of a reasonable accommodation by the company.

And just as the uses and iterations of wearable technology are proliferating at mind-boggling speed, so too are the legal gray areas at both personal and professional levels.

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