Advanced technologies are making their way into the workplace with no signs of slowing down. Handwritten employee time records and schedules are being replaced by more sophisticated systems and technologies.
One such technology is biometrics. Biometric technology measures and analyzes individuals’ biological data to identify and authenticate employees, track productivity, improve security, and more. Popular forms of biometric systems include finger and hand scanning, facial and voice recognition, and iris scanning, among others. While companies’ use of biometrics may rarely be challenged by consumers (for example, to gain entry to an amusement park or tanning bed), employees are more likely to view the use of their biometric data as a dangerous and unnecessary intrusion. Employers
“Often, the fear is that the data could be stolen or misused. However, much of this fear is unfounded and can be reduced by properly explaining the technology.”
Workplace biometrics are increasingly popular in response to the rising tide of wage and hour claims against employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). With the volume and monetary risks of FLSA
As biometric technology becomes more common in the workplace, employees, unions, and others increasingly object to its use. They argue that the technology is too invasive, a violation of privacy, or easily compromised. Often, the fear is that the data could be stolen or misused. However, much of this fear is unfounded and can be reduced by properly explaining the technology and informing the employee that what is stored by the system is only a comparison model from which his or her actual individual characteristics cannot be reproduced.
Employers frequently ask what they can do when
One factor to consider is the potential for unlawful discrimination claims under federal, state, or local laws. In 2013, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Consol Energy, Inc., and Consolidation Coal Company, alleging unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion under federal law. Based on his religious beliefs, an employee objected to providing biometric data for a biometric hand scanner. The employee requested a religious accommodation and, although the employer previously provided an accommodation for two disabled employees, the religious accommodation request was denied. The case went to trial, and the jury found in favor of the employee, awarding $150,000 in compensatory damages. The judge awarded an additional $436,860.74 in
While appeals are pending, the nearly $600,000 decision shows just how important it is for employers to be fully versed on potential issues prior to implementing a biometric system.
Advanced technologies in the workplace, including biometrics, are here to stay. It is imperative that employers do their homework and be prepared for the challenges associated with the evolving use of biometrics in the workplace.