Workplace Monitoring Gets Personal, And Employees Fear It’s Too Close For comfort. They’re right

By Robert Reed
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) When it comes to security and workplace privacy, employees don’t enjoy many protections. As Robert Reed reports, emerging biometric and other devices could make matters worse.

Chicago Tribune

As you work, Big Business is watching.

Companies are increasingly tapping into new technology designed to keep a close eye on employees. This monitoring goes beyond traditional security cameras to include portable devices worn by workers.

As the Tribune has reported, Amazon recently won patents for high-tech wristbands that could be used by its e-commerce warehouse and distribution staffs. Designed to track worker hand movements as orders are filled, the products, if made, could eventually be integrated throughout Amazon’s ranks, including its estimated 8,000 Illinois workforce.

A few companies are toying with implanting microchips under workers’ skin. With a wave of the hand, employees could get into secured plants, office campuses or food courts, no more fumbling with electronic cards or passes.

Scared yet? You probably should be.

When it comes to security and workplace privacy, employees don’t enjoy many protections and these emerging biometric and other devices can make matters worse.

“Generally in the workplace, there isn’t a right to privacy,” says Melissa Ventrone, a privacy attorney in the Chicago office of law firm Thompson Coburn.

That’s for sure.

Without getting into too much legal nitty-gritty, management can look at most anything a worker creates on the job or with company equipment. That means emails, social media posts, internet searches, text or instant messages and GPS devices that track employee whereabouts.

Now, however, employers are beginning to take a much more intimate approach to following workers. One growing method is using time clocks that scan an employee’s fingerprint, retina or iris.

Some workers are ticked off about it and fighting back. Up to 30 class-action lawsuits were filed by late 2017 accusing companies of violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which governs how such sensitive information is collected and used.

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