I wear an Apple Watch. I have since they debuted in April 2015. I love it even though I rarely use all of its functionality. I track my calories burned, whether I work out, get all the notifications from Twitter to reminders to actually breathe. (Little nugget – I have only missed my stand goal twice in nearly four years.) I’ve metric-ed myself to death with Ive (my watch’s name).
Yet, I would never share all of this information with an employer. You can tell where I’ve been, whether I went up a flight of stairs, or my heart rate at a particular time. You’d be able to figure out so much about me, my habits (good and bad), and could even use the information to determine if I’m a good employee. (She sits too much when she should be chatting with customers or getting parts.)
My personal beliefs of biometrics are part of the reason I’m less-than-enthusiastic about recommending employers use them. I love the idea of determining if there’s a better way to lay out a manufacturing floor, whether we could reduce real estate costs by encouraging hot-desking, and I’m even for handing out Apple Watches to employees for wellness purposes. But I just can’t get endorse an employer gathering this data and then making employment decisions based on the data.
My biggest concerns surround privacy and the potential for misuse of personal health information. Employers don’t get to know what I do off work provided it doesn’t affect the workplace. If an employer knows, could I get terminated for spending too much time at a movie theater rather than reading business books? What about not spending the night at my house but at a friend’s? Biometrics can allow data gatherers to be the Big Brother technology has often been portrayed as.
As for health information, biometrics are implicated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act, and many state laws. Imagine being an employee in a wheelchair where steps taken are not going to be tracked. Does that mean that that employee is not going to be considered when the health data is aggregated into an analytic tool that determines who should be promoted? Or imagine being an employee who struggles with his weight who has trouble meeting his step goals. When his fitness goals are not met, does that mean he could be terminated, maybe even in an effort to reduce overall health costs. (This would likely be unlawful under ERISA, but that might not stop an overly cost-conscious employers.)
To this end, I recently went on XpertHR’s HR Podcast to discuss a new decision out of Illinois on biometric data collection and the possible impact on employers from coast-to-coast. I encourage you to listen. You can listen here.