It’s no secret I love technology. I order Apple products at midnight, I try all sorts of widgets and gizmos, and I regularly speak on the impact of technology in the workplace. Technology can do some amazing things.
What technology brings to the workplace is both awesome and downright creepy. Employers can have employees turn in DNA samples to get a customized wellness program, seize the power of analytics to source candidates over the interwebs, and monitor employee engagement through badging technology. All of these uses come with a proven and legitimate return on investment for an employer. However, for each HR department who purchases this technology, an employment attorney loses an hour of sleep.
For example, the DNA-testing wellness program described above saved one employer over $1,400 per employee. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. Yet, the program screams Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act violation. Under GINA, employers are prohibited from requesting genetic information from employees and their families. So if an employer requests a DNA sample in hopes that eventually health care costs go down, does the employer violate GINA? In pure lawyer-speak, it depends. Is the wellness program truly voluntary under EEOC regulations? Can the third-party wellness vendor make the request and keep the genetic and other health information from the employer? Can the employer reap the benefits without getting any health information from the employee? If the answers to these questions are yes, we may be able to implement the program in a GINA-compliant way – reap the benefits and minimize risk.
Analytics provide another great example. Xerox reduced customer service representative attrition by 2o percent by using analytics! That’s so cool. But analytics can be inherently discriminatory. An algorithm discriminated against minority beauty pageant contestants. The bot Microsoft tested on Twitter turned into a Nazi in less than 24 hours. What does this mean when we turn these technologies loose in HR? Will we able to avoid discrimination and potential biases? Will the correlations analytics find be job-related and business necessity or will other factors and doctrines apply? Will we have the records available to protect an employer? These are considerations every HR department should think about before finding a big data solution because these risks are real, and the EEOC is paying attention.
As both an employment attorney and a technology aficionado, I get the conundrum that employers face. You want the benefits, not the risk. If you don’t adopt the technology, you may not be as competitive because your competitors are using this tech. The cost-benefit analysis may favor the purchase and the results, but before you make the purchase, are there ways to make the tech just a bit safer, reduce the risk even a little? I think so.
So here’s my pledge:
I solemnly pledge I will never say no to implementing new technology, strategy, policy, or process with a legitimate return on investment. What I will say (and do) is help your organization put a metaphorical seat belt or airbag on the new stuff to better protect the organization should questions (and litigation) arise later. A safer policy, piece of technology, or process is a better one.
If an employer had zero risk, it would have zero employees. When employers implement new technology, they take on even more risk. Let’s talk about minimizing that risk.