Prior to the 21st century, workplace wearables really were not a human resources issue for most companies. Beyond the Casio calculator watch from back in the day, workplace wearables were not a reality before the release of the first version of the iPod on October 23, 2001. Even then, workplace wearables really did not become a question to be addressed by HR professionals until the rise of the Internet and the introduction of the Apple Watch in 2015.
Today, from health monitors and location trackers to wireless earbuds and smart glasses, workplace wearables pose a sudden multitude of benefits and risks to employers. Without a doubt, the demand for workplace wearables is exploding. Over the next 10 years, the market is expected to quintuple from $14 billion to $70 billion. In many industries, employers are just as excited as consumers and employees. The challenge is that new technologies often cause disruptions and unforeseen negative consequences when carelessly integrated into the workplace.
There is no question that employers must be mindful of legal pitfalls looming in the future. It’s essential is to make sure that a workplace wearables office policy opens the door to the benefits while avoiding any increased exposure to employer liability. In addition, any such policy will need to be revisited as the technology changes. After all, today as the 21st century is deep in its second decade, we merely are at the dawn of the workplace wearables revolution.
The Benefits of Workplace Wearables
As a professional employer organization, Total HR Management believes that an office policy on workplace wearables is becoming more and more of a necessity in 2017. Although the benefits of workplace wearables are many, the distracting influences and even external threats must be considered as well. Workplace wearables need to be divided into categories, particularly in relation to Internet access and privacy considerations. Although the benefits are significant, the potential negatives must not be allowed to disrupt an office.
The benefits of workplace wearables include enhanced worker communications and increased workplace safety. Moreover, wearables can be part of employee training and can improve employee tracking. Workplace wearables can allow employees to record themselves performing a task. Beyond providing a record, such a recording offers the potential for instantaneous feedback through sharing.
In other words, workplace wearables offer 24-7 access to your employees while they are on the job. They remove many of the traditional excuses for being out of touch or non-contactable. Moreover, according to experts from the University of London, wearable technologies have been also found to boost employee productivity by 8.5 percent, and to increase job satisfaction by 3.5 percent.
The Risks of Workplace Wearables
With access to the Internet available all the time, workplace wearables pose an obvious risk to confidential information and intellectual property. The impulsive nature of being in the moment with a workplace wearable could cause an employee to reveals inappropriate information. Rather than having the traditional filters and boundaries, workplace wearables make communication through email and social media a little too accessible. In light of the potential disclosure of your company’s confidential information, the issue of workplace wearables in the office must be handled with firm precision and a delicate balance.
Fitness-oriented workplace wearables can help improve the morale and the health of your employees. However, employee fitness programs connected to workplace wearables open the door to a host of potential issues. All such programs must be vetted to make sure they do not violate federal programs like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Although you can encourage employees to be healthy and keep fit, such programs need to be largely self-administered. You might want to give your employees Fitbits, but you are not allowed to track their progress. You need to be very careful not to open the door to potential penalties and federal violations. From HIPAA requirements and ADA prohibitions to EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) issues and GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) question marks, the federal hurdles for an employee wellness program combined with workplace wearables are many.
Is Smaller Always Better?
The potential business uses for smartwatches, smartglasses and other intelligent wearable devices are numerous. As wearable devices become smaller and more discrete, concerns about data security, surveillance and safety grow as well. Many of these devices offer hidden sound and video recording possibilities. Literally, the devices used by Cold War spies seem almost antiquated in comparison to what any consumer’s smart phone now offers. Beyond smartphones, miniature recorders and cameras are now common as well.
If an employer has access to the tracking capabilities and data collection of workplace wearables, written policies that explain in detail what types of data may and may not be collected need to be established. It must also be clear how the data will be used, and how it will be stored or destroyed. Workplace wearables should not be a step into either the spy world of James Bond or the tyrannical oppression of George Orwell’s 1984.
Even more importantly, employers need to make sure that employees do not use workplace wearables to violate wiretapping and surveillance laws. They also need to make sure that they avoid doing the same. For example, in California, all parties to a conversation must consent to its recording. Without a doubt, such dangers must be avoided. Any new workplace wearables introduced by a company need to benefit both the employees and the employer.
Total HR Management Can Help
The challenges that come with introducing wearable devices into the workplace have been faced in the past. With the pace of technology adoption only increasing and new challenges on the horizon, you need to stay ahead of the game. Total HR Management can help, including a revision of your employee handbook to include a workplace wearables office policy..
To learn more about how we can help your company establish a policy in regards to workplace wearables, contact Total HR Management today. Please call (800) 975-5128 today to speak with an HR professional and access the help your small to mid-sized company needs.
No Legal Advice Intended: This blog includes information about legal issues and legal questions. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to legal advice from your attorney or other professional legal services provider.