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Can companies monitor workers' health using wearables?

With wearable health technologies evolving rapidly, perhaps it's only a matter of time until employees start receiving directives from management to start using health tracking devices both on and off the job.

But where is the line between an employee's free time and the company clock? Can companies' wellness programs go too far?

It appears as if they may if they imply that participation in the wearable health tracker programs are anything more than voluntary and not a condition of continued employment.

Workers have a right to privacy concerning their health, with medical information protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). Likewise, companies can offer their workers incentives to get healthier to reduce absenteeism, lower health care costs and improve employee productivity on the job.

Even if third parties, i.e. employee benefits managers, are the ones controlling the collected data and personal health statistics of the employees, that person still is on the company payroll. Workers may suspect that their information could get leaked to managers or otherwise be used to their detriment.

Implementing wearable health trackers for large and small businesses is a major undertaking that should be only one part of a 100 percent voluntary wellness program. But if workers refuse to participate, could this be used against them in subtle ways?

Potentially, yes, although that would be a violation of the employees' rights. However, proving that refusing to use the wearables led to negative personnel actions could be difficult.

Below are some fairly intrusive ways that companies can continuously monitor their employees through the use of wearable health trackers.

  • Monitoring workers' alertness levels. When employees use wearables, companies can track both their physical and mental fatigue and keep workers' safer by alerting them to dangers. But wearables may also draw attention to hungover workers or those suffering from side effects of medical conditions.
  • Tracking employee whereabouts, movement and activities. Ostensibly to alert workers when they need a break, wearables also offer companies blueprints of employee activity levels at any point in their shifts. Do you really want to reveal how long each bathroom break takes?
  • Correcting employees' posture. Making it sound like a benefit doesn't disguise that chronic slouchers could get misidentified as depressed or disengaged workers.

Were your rights violated by workplace policies involving wearable health trackers? You may have a legitimate case for a lawsuit.

Source: Travelers, "Wearables Can Help Keep Your Small Business Employees Healthy," accessed Sep. 22, 2017

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