As more and more people start returning to the workplace, many employers are introducing new ways to check their staff, from thermal scanners to bracelets.
For workers at one of the Ford sites around the world, there are two new steps to the morning routine. First, answer three health questions on your cell phone, confirming that you are not a risk to your colleagues. Then, scan at the entrance of your workplace to verify that it is not running a temperature.
It’s not just Ford, these measures are now typical for many companies when employees return. Amazon, Walmart and dozens of others – including the BBC – have introduced thermal scanners. The move is widely appreciated by the labor force, as enthusiastic as their leaders to ensure that the virus is contained.
“We didn’t have anyone saying no,” says Ford’s John Gardiner. “By knowing the risks, people understand that we are doing everything we can to protect their health and safety.”
But thermal scanning is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new worker privacy intrusions that would have been hard to imagine just a few months ago.
As governments face data protection issues related to app-based track-and-trace, many companies are planning their schemes.
The accounting giant PwC has developed an app called Check-In, which is being tested in its Shanghai office. Employee cell phones register if they are near colleagues. If anyone tests positive for Covid-19, you can inform and ask to isolate recent close contacts. PwC plans to be able to market this to other employers.
On the contrary, start-ups including Locix, Microshare in the United States and Rombit, Estimote and Kinexon in Europe are among many that offer track-and-trace systems that do not require smartphones, but use straps and lanyards to monitor your position. physics.
Companies that prefer video surveillance can turn to companies like Glimpse Analytics and Smartvid.io, who have adapted their artificial intelligence to see if workers are keeping their distance and even if they are wearing masks.
Some companies test their staff for the virus itself. Although it is an expensive approach, some offshore oil rigs, mines and other confined workplaces see this as the safest approach. Amazon also said it is building its own test facility.
Anna Elliott of the international law firm Osborne Clarke says she advises clients that they should take staff privacy into account and consult unions before introducing new surveillance measures.
“If your employer is acting properly, in good faith, I don’t think we should be too worried,” he says. What shouldn’t be is a “smash and grab” to get as much information about your employees as possible.
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Much is still unexplored territory. For example, leaders may be tempted to use questionnaires to ask who their workers live with and what they do outside of work, to identify any additional risks. But this is likely to be considered a step too far, says Elliott.
While employees in theory are not obliged to answer questions about their private life, or agree on temperature or any other control, given the “imbalance of power”, it is not always easy to say no, especially in a time of high job insecurity , he adds. And companies can make monitoring compliance a condition for entering a building.
At the Ford plant in Plymouth, Michigan, volunteers recently tried bracelets that buzz to warn them if they approach the mandatory social distance and inform supervisors if there are groups of workers.
Wearing a bracelet affects many like Orwellian, allowing constant monitoring of a worker position and Ford has chosen not to follow that system, opting instead to provide workers with more protective equipment. But others find the idea appealing.
Rombit, who originally developed wearable sensors for use in ports, claims to have had more than 400 requests for information on an updated version to monitor social distances.
An electronics manufacturer in northern France has used bracelets, issued by the US company Microshare, in the past month. They identified three cases of the virus at the time, allowing them to send anyone deemed at risk home. UK hospitals, military facilities and prisons are piloting the same system.
Microshare’s Mike Moran says this poses less privacy risks than a phone app.
“Employees wear a badge or bracelet with a Bluetooth beacon that simply says” I’m here “and can detect another beacon within a certain number of feet,” he says. “Create a tracking ability that doesn’t touch their personal data.”
Like Rombit’s, Microshare’s system is anonymous unless someone tests positive for Covid-19.
“Everything we’ve done has been designed not to open a door to your personal habits, your Facebook feeds,” says Moran. By picking up a lanyard or bracelet, the worker is giving implicit consent to be tracked, he suggests, until the end of the shift when the device is returned and they leave knowing that they are no longer tracked.
While companies like Microshare aim to protect privacy, the truth is that we may have to accept some level of raid, says Moran, as we have accepted enhanced security measures following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as a necessary compromise to protect us.
For many workers, their current concern is to make sure their boss is doing enough to protect them, rather than complaining that they have done too much. But at some point, attention will have to expand, say privacy experts, to ensure that workers’ rights are not compromised.
“I’m not a privacy absolutist,” says Ifeoma Ajunwa, assistant professor of labor law at Cornell University in the United States. “But we shouldn’t allow pandemics to become pretexts.”
The months of work from home have resulted in an increase in companies purchasing software to monitor our productivity remotely, he says. These tools can track the keys pressed on a laptop, activate webcams and take screenshots.
This was already a rapidly growing pre-coronavirus sector, but prof. Ajunwa says there has been a tendency to “jump on the bandwagon” during the blockade, raising concerns that bosses manage the time of workers’ micro-managers, increasing stress and potentially violating privacy.
For example, an online video link can be a window on your home life, your sexual orientation, religion, your family, whether you have children and your economic circumstances. All this can potentially cause discrimination, says prof. Ajunwa.
Clearly there are necessary concessions during a public health emergency, but prof. Ajunwa believes that more debate is needed on these policies.
“The concern is not necessarily that [firms] they are trying to impose the necessary social distancing. The concern is that there are no effective rules on what happens to the data.
“Can they sell it to health insurance companies? To data brokers? Or to banks or auto insurers who can deny you insurance or raise rates? It’s just a fact of data.”
Taking worker temperatures doesn’t worry her as much as some companies’ plans to introduce widespread tests. A company that has a staff DNA sample could also perform genetic tests, he suggests.
If it appears that you are genetically more susceptible to Covid-19 or other diseases, this is information that you may not want to share with your boss.
“I am not saying that employers cannot take action to curb the pandemic. It is that there are no guarantees for those steps that are not harmful to workers.”