It is not uncommon for employers to assign badges to their employees to grant access to certain locations on the employer’s property and parking garages. Many employees have them, use them, lose them and think little of them. But, badges made by Humanyze are so much more, raising concerns from privacy advocates and others. According to a New York Post article and earlier reports, these badges are designed to be worn by employees all day (and night) and are capable of capturing a wide range of information about the employee, along with data from other systems of the employer. Through data mining and analytics, according to Humanyze’s chief executive Ben Waber:
you can actually get very detailed information on how people are communicating, how physiologically aroused people are, and can make predictions about how productive and happy they are at work
So, just what does this badge collect? According to the report and the company’s website, the badge is worn around the neck (kind of like name badges at association conferences) and captures sleep patterns, analyzes voice, monitors body language and fitness, tracks location, and the levels of communications with colleagues. This and other data is combined with the employee’s email and phone activity to produce insights into productivity levels and the employee’s emotions, including stress and coping levels. According to the article, the badge “can even detect if an employee is drunk.” However, Mr. Waber points out that conversations are not recorded, only the tone of the conversation, and that individuals use the badges only after giving their consent.
This super badge certainly is not the first or only product working its way to market that engages in this kind of monitoring. For example, we reported on Microsoft’s Hololens, the company’s “augmented reality help system,” which is equipped with a “plurality” of sensors that gather a range of biometrics parameters (heart rate, perspiration, etc.) along with other information to assist employees with certain tasks. There are others coming.
The badge, Hololens and other similar devices can be valuable tools for businesses to understand their workforces, increase productivity, improve safety, reduce human error and so on. However, beyond assessing whether the technology works, there are a range of legal and risk management issues employers need to consider when deciding to use these devices.
Privacy and data security considerations are among them as these devices collect a range of health-related data, as well as information relating to the employee’s emotions, locations and interactions with others. However, as we have noted in earlier posts, other questions that are raised, such as whether gathering of biometric and other medical data constitutes a disability-related inquiry under the Americans with Disabilities Act, is monitoring 27/7 going too far, does the company have to bargain with the union, how will this affect morale, what obligations do we have to secure the data collected and who can have access to it. Employers should think through these and other issues carefully before introducing these kinds of tools and devices into the workplace.