Working wearables are becoming a factor in the workplace

Sept. 22, 2017
When it comes to working wearables, the technology has outpaced the law, according to Tawny Alvarez of Verrill Dana, LLP.

When it comes to working wearables, the technology has outpaced the law, according to Tawny Alvarez of Verrill Dana, LLP, attorneys at law speaking at a recent NationaLease meeting.

So exactly what are working wearables? The list includes:

  • Activity monitors
  • Bluetooth headsets
  • Audio earbuds
  • Medication delivery products
  • Emotional measuring devices
  • Imaging products
  • Smart clothing, glasses and watches
  • Biometric sensors
  • Virtual reality devices

If you think these types of devices are not being used in the workplace, think again. In 2016, according to Alvarez, companies gave employees approximately 202,000,000 wearable devices. That number is expected to grow to half-a-billion by 2021.

Wearables can help in a variety of ways. For example, there are devices available that can detect if drivers are becoming drowsy or falling asleep. Some wearables offer health and wellness benefits including those that track fitness and sleep or provide early indications of illness.

However, these devices are not without their drawbacks. There can be claims of discrimination when overzealous HR departments make optional programs seem “not so optional.” In addition, data gathered from these devices could fall under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.

Items like armband trackers, GPS tags, efficiency mappers, enhanced remote meeting aids can help improve operational efficiencies but for many workers have a “creepy” or “big brother” connotation to them. There are also questions about who owns the device and the data, and the concern that recording devices could be used for spying on employees.

It’s a good bet that more workplace wearables will be coming on the market so you need to set some policies governing them.

Things to consider include:

  • Who owns the device and the data?
  • How is the data stored and used?
  • Who can access the data?
  • What are the employees’ expectations of what the device can do?
  • How will you prevent abuse by employees?
  • How will you prevent abuse by the company?

You also need to develop a code of conduct to cover these devices. Here are some questions to consider to help you get started:

  • How is the data collected?
  • Where is the data stored?
  • How will the data be used?
  • Who owns the data?
  • Can the data can be sold

If all of this seems overwhelming, consider contracting with a third-party to administer the program, but make sure they have insurance and will indemnify you. In addition, make sure there are strict controls in place about who can access data. If possible, make the data non-identifiable.

Workplace wearables are here to stay; make sure you stay on top of developments in the devices and in legislation surrounding them.

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