Wearable technology - what once seemed a futuristic idea is now a reality which is becoming a more commonplace part of everyday life - with many people sporting fitness devices and smartwatches.
This technology is also becoming more evident in the workplace. A recent PWC study on wearable technology in the workplace described such devices as having "the potential to unlock a new world of opportunity for both employers and employees, offering key information to understand and manage the workforce and increase employee engagement". An important factor in providing the devices is to assist employees with managing their personal health as a means of tackling absenteeism costs but a more obvious advantage of such devices is the ability to keep employees easily connected with the workplace.
With some employers supplying wearable technology devices - often as part of a corporate wellness program - it is possible that the employer is able to track data on employees, including information such as location, hours worked, rest breaks and even activity level.
So what do employees think? PWC's most recent survey on workplace wearables found that 65% think that technology has a real role to play in their health and wellbeing and interestingly and 61% of employee are "keen for their employer to take an active role in their health and wellbeing". Perhaps unsurprising is the finding that 38% do not trust their employer to use the data they collect to benefit them. Although 25% would willing share such data in return for an incentive such as flexible hours or increased pay.
This all leaves questions over whether there is a legal right to such monitoring and whether processing or storing data from the devices is done so in accordance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998.
Wearable devices raise issues about security and privacy that may not have been fully addressed by employers or appreciated by employees. It is likely that internal policies on monitoring and use of IT systems, equipment and communication will need to be reviewed and updated, with specific consent obtained if any personal data is to be collected from the devices.
Are employees aware of the data and security issues? A recent FT report on wearables highlighted the example of an employee given a fitness tracker by her employer in which she entered data on her consumption of water and the number of steps she took. This data, along with that of her colleagues on the program were recorded on a tally available for all in the company to see. At the time it did not occur to her that she was giving up personal information and the business did not supply any guidelines.
Employers offering such devices would be well-advised to formulate clear policies on how the information from such devices may be processed, stored and used by them. Individual consent is required to process sensitive personal data - which includes information about health - but the sensible approach would be to get individual consent in all cases.
As well as data protection issues, there are rules about monitoring and surveillance in the workplace. Employee should be informed about the extent of monitoring and how it might be used and consent obtained and documented.
Kim Smith was not given terms and conditions when her employer offered her a fitness tracker last year. The 27-year-old, who holds a junior position in a big media company, entered data such as how much water she drank and her weight on the GPS-enabled device. The number of steps she — and her colleagues who joined the programme — took each day were recorded on a tally that was available for anyone in the company to see.“I liked fitness apps, and thought it was a free bit of cool kit,” she says. “I didn’t think about it as giving up information about myself, but looking back that was quite naive.”She is not alone. About 202m wearable devices were given out by companies in 2016