From body cameras to self-analysing toilets - Privacy considerations with new technologies in the workplace

Many of our clients introduce new technologies into their workforce with the aim of improving safety – recently we have seen employers, ranging from emergency services and health providers to construction firms, introducing body cameras, and there are plenty of smart phone apps which assist with WHS compliance.

New technologies

As well as the technologies we are familiar with, there are a raft of new sensorised technologies which are quickly becoming economically feasible for wide deployment.

For example, sensorised flooring, which is currently being developed to address fall risks in health and aged care facilities, could potentially be introduced by businesses for both security purposes and also to analyse work patterns with the aim of improving efficiency.

Drug and alcohol testing is also prevalent in many of our client's organisations – again with the focus being safety.

Safety conscious employers may be keen to explore the possibility of introducing toilets which automatically analyse 'inputs' as an alternative to intrusive and expensive drug testing (again, these toilets are being developed to provide real time health monitoring of patients – you may have also seen that the Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, last week announced that sewage data will be used to decide locations for welfare drug testing trials).

However when introducing any new technologies, our clients need to carefully consider the extent of the personal information that can be collected, and what they propose to do with it and whether they can.

Using the example of self-analysing toilets, what will an employer do when it discovers that an employee who has applied for a promotion is pregnant? Of course, employers should not be taking pregnancy into account when making a decision, but how will they defend themselves against a claim if they decide (for legitimate reasons) to offer the job to someone else if the employee finds out they knew about her pregnancy?

What do employers need to do before introducing new technologies

It is important for our clients to consider their position on 'extraneous' personal information (ie information other than that required directly for the purpose) which will be collected before they introducing new technology. Completing a Privacy Impact Assessment can assist by applying some structured thinking to the process.

Other legal considerations when introducing new technologies into a workplace include:

  • Any specific workplace surveillance requirements in applicable state/territory legislation;
  • Consultation obligations with employees and unions imposed by industrial instruments;
  • Review of associated policies or procedures; and
  • Consideration of what's required to fulfil the duty of care to workers.

Our National Privacy Team helps our clients to ensure that they meet their privacy and other legal obligations when implementing these types of projects.