Wearable technology in the workplace

Wearable technology

Taking safety and privacy into account

The creative uses for digital technology seem endless with new devices, apps and software popping up all the time. These advances affect every aspect of our lives, both at work and play. This rapid cultural and technological progress leaves us wondering if the changes are all positive. Texting and email affect our face-to-face and written communication skills, daily use of GPS technology has rendered map reading skills all but unnecessary, and the elimination of jobs as robots take over are only a few examples of what some consider negative outcomes of new technology.

One area of concern to many is wearable technology in the workplace.  Wearable gadgets, whether worn for work or for personal pleasure, are being praised and criticized by both employers and employees.

Health and safety in the workplace

More and more employers are outfitting their workers with wearable gizmos to improve safety in the workplace. Just as the use of vehicle telematics is used by many auto fleet and insurance companies, wearable gadgets can track employee vital signs and movements or facilitate communication. This can lead to lower health insurance premiums, fewer sick days, better driving habits, and the ability to track the location of employees in areas with no GPS service.

Some companies use employee fitness trackers, offering incentives for improvements in weight and overall health. A Google Glass app alerts tired drivers whose eyes begin to droop, which is being embraced by trucking and fleet companies. There are even devices in the works where employees can strap on that simulate an exoskeleton to relieve muscle stress from sitting or standing for long periods of time.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-google-glass-glasses-seamless-white-image39990035Firefighters and other first responders can use another Google Glass app that provides instant access to building floor plans, fire hydrant locations, and manufacturer vehicle extraction instructions. Firefighters can have their respiration rate and other vitals tracked when wearing flame-resistant, moisture-wicking clothing embedded with sensors.

Privacy in the workplace

As wonderful as all that sounds, some employees are crying, “foul” and many employers are concerned about liability issues and employee crime.

Wearable gadgets, no matter why they’re worn, collect information – personal and valuable information. Whether the device can surf the Internet, take photos, record vital signs, or track movement, privacy and security are issues.

Companies are slow to address the risks involved with wearable gadgets, most likely assuming their current policies cover any potential liabilities. For employers, the biggest risk is loss of intellectual property. Employees wearing Google Glass, without lifting a finger, can copy, record and take pictures of information that can then be transmitted to anyone, anywhere. Of course a cell phone does all this too, but Google Glass is a much more discreet device. Worse, any of this could take place by accident. Since there’s no antivirus protection on these wearables, hackers can infiltrate and grab what they want.

The privacy of the employees is another significant concern. How comfortable would you be having a co-worker who is wearing Google Glass share the restroom with you? Even if no pictures are taken, there’s still the risk of a worker suing his or her employer for creating an atmosphere that allows for invasion of privacy. Employees also worry that personal information collected by employer-supplied gadgets could be used against them or retrieved by hackers, either directly from the device or the company network.

Many states have laws prohibiting recording without consent. Think of the liability attached to having personal or business conversations recorded without the consent of everyone involved.

Risk management for wearables

Wearable devices are bound to become smaller, more affordable, and more widely used in the not too distant future. Employers need to address the risks by setting policies and putting controls in place. The first step is deciding if employees should be permitted to wear such devices in the workplace, and under what circumstances they can be worn. The nature of the business will dictate many of these decisions.  Protocol on wearables will also be more easily determined by who owns the devices – the employer or the employee.

Insurance implications

The additional liability exposure in the form of invasion of privacy necessitates not only policies and procedures to make an incident less likely to occur, but also Employment Practices Liability insurance. In addition, Intellectual Property Infringement Abatement Coverage can be purchased to help to fund a lawsuit against perpetrators. Contact Sadler & Company at 800-622-7370 is you have any questions about these coverages.

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