Wearables: The Next Big Employee Tracking Device

Wearables, which are currently dominating the fitness and lifestyle industry also have another huge fan: Employers. Companies are increasingly using the 24×7 monitoring capabilities of wearables to ensure workers are compliant and at their productive best, even going so far as to implant chips in their workforce. These devices are becoming a source of worry for thousands of workers who are concerned that the constant monitoring amounts to a blatant breach of their privacy rights.

At Epicentre, a company based in Sweden, close to 20 per cent of staff have been implanted with a tiny chip that lets them access offices in the company premises without having to use electronic entry cards or key fobs. The chip, a near-field communication (NFC) device, allows other functions that include setting of the alarm, accessing the company gym and garnering loyalty points in nearby retail stores.

According to Hannes Sjoblad, Chief Disruption Officer at Epicenter, ever since launching the system, “security companies, office operators, real estate companies and even military organizations want to see how this technology works.”

Wearable devices are now part of a growing trend of employee surveillance systems. Companies are increasingly opting for wearable devices such as wristbands, smart glasses, badges and smart watches to monitor employee activity both in and out of the work place.

According to Chris Bauer, innovations director at Goldsmiths University in London, “It started with big data discussions around gathering business insights and not having the human accounted for in that data puzzle. Wearable technology can help make the workforce visible in that.”

According to Gartner, in 2013, 2,000 companies offered their staff fitness trackers to wear while at work. In 2014, the number grew to 10,000. Analysts have predicted that by 2016, almost all companies with more than 500 workers will require their staff to wear fitness trackers.

The revolution has already begun, to the detriment of employees and their right to privacy.

In 2015, BP distributed over 24,500 fitness trackers to their staff in North America. The program was meant to track employee fitness and use them to negotiate lower health insurance rates. They also store data on employee fitness.

In risky industries such as mining and oil, wearables are being distributed to workers as safety features. Mining companies are increasingly turning to devices such as the “SmartCap” which have sensors to detect alertness and movement.

Retailer Tesco hands its workers in Ireland wearable armbands to track goods being transported and inevitably track employee movement all day.

Amazon warehouses staff wear GPS tags and use hand scanners that signal efficient routes to take in collecting items.

These technological devices operate from data, data drawn from employees. Through collecting information on employee movements, alertness and fitness, they are able to send feedback to company management on sensitive information such as how often employees rest, their concentration span, who they talk to, whether they are ill, how often they visit restrooms, whether they are menstruating or even pregnant. Simply put, privacy in the workplace has been thrown out the window.

Employees across North America have expressed legitimate concern that the information collected would be used to build profiles on them, without their knowledge. The data could also could be breached as has been the trend recently with technology system hacks, letting sensitive information openly accessible to the world. These systems definitely do not serve the employee’s best interests and should be regulated if not outrightly prohibited.

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