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Wearables at work: Big data or Big Brother?

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in Centerpiece,HR Management,Human Resources

wearable technologyMost of us carry devices that track our movements, noting precisely where we are at any given time. Smartphone data, however, is so 2014.

Wearable technology is the future, and it has the potential to create trouble for HR.

The Apple Watch and other wearables can track a user’s heart rate, sets fitness goals and tell whether those goals have been met. Similar products, such as the FitBit provide an array of health information as well.

The problem for HR: A ­wellness program administrator could conceivably pull up data from an employ­­ee’s device and get a precise description of the employee’s level of fitness. Devices can tell when a person went to sleep, whether and when she awoke during the night and how soon she fell back to sleep.

Do employers need this information? Frankly, no. It’s more than is necessary for a healthy employer-employee relationship.

Yet the ability to acquire biometric data is growing all the time, and will create employment law problems.

For example, a device called GENEActive currently under development may provide genetic information that employers are barred from acting upon under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. What was once buried in a family medical history is now detected by something that looks like a wristwatch.

Similarly, the ADA bars employ­­­ers from making most medical inquiries.

Employers must consider whether the data gained is worth the employee enmity created. In a recent case, an employer used cellphone data to track an employee’s movements even when she was off duty. She turned off the feature and was fired. She sued. Her case is now pending and others are watching to see whether she wins.

Employers need to look at wearable data and determine the minimum data they need to know to help the employee do the job. Anything beyond that seems likely to lead to trouble.

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