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Microchip your staff?

18 Dec 2018

This is a question we never thought we’d ask, but after US software firm Three Square Market announced that they had plans to use what is termed as ‘near-field communications’ or NFC technology to track their staff, then we may have to start to examine the legal implications of this use of technology in the workplace.

NFC is commonly used in microchips for contactless credit cards. Three Square Market’s plan is to implant microchips about the same size as a grain of rice into the hands of willing employees – it’s important to point out that all the employees are volunteers!. They say it will help them pay for food in the company canteen, open doors, log into their computers and even use office equipment such as photocopiers with the wave of a hand but unsurprisingly it’s caused a furore in the States and around the world.

The impact of microchipping humans opens up a can of ethical worms and raises some fundamental questions such as the impact on your personal privacy, the consequences of refusing to be microchipped by your employers, and what happens once you leave a position with the microchip still in you. That’s without the problematic question of tracking peoples’ movements without their consent, exactly what type of information is being stored on those chips (and we’re into GDPR territory here, too), and what kind of safeguards are put in place. While the current microchips being looked at don’t yet have GPS tracking ability, it’s not going to be long before such chips are available.

Employers already have the right to keep an eye on their staff during working hours and using other data gathering methods such as CPR checks, credit checks and the use of CCTV, in-cab monitors and vehicle trackers (for fleet drivers and delivery personnel). However, this data is subject to strict legislation and there are EU and UK guidelines and laws to state exactly how their data is collected and stored. Employers have to inform staff if they intend to monitor them, and must consult with staff on any changes to security or other monitoring processes. They must ensure that the process is necessary for the good of the company, will not infringe on workers’ rights or their privacy, and is not (unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances) a condition of employment.

There is plenty of wearable tech on the market, from smart watches through to clothes that incorporate a battery of sensors to send medical data to doctors. However, there is one fundamental difference between these and microchips – you can’t take a microchip off. The expansion of the use of microchips is going to take some time, not least because it’s going to take one heck of a PR exercise on the part of employers to persuade a very dubious workforce of their relevance and usefulness within the workplace…

For more information, please contact Sarah Hall, Partner in our Employment department.