Employers wishing to clamp down on unproductive staff habits or indiscretions have the digital tools but not the legal sanctions.

A popular retail corporation operating a chain of discount department stores has patented a system that can listen in on whether workers politely greet guests. A delivery company now uses sensors in its delivery trucks to ensure seatbelt safety and updated vehicle maintenance.

A customer service representative in an insurance company has to operate his computer with an omnipresent AI ‘assistant’ that checks if he is sleepy or talking too fast on the phone. The list goes on.

Varied companies are now using digital tools to monitor their employees’ movements. Employees can either opt in and agree to being monitored by these digital tools, or seek protection from their country’s privacy laws.

If, as head of a department or even a company, you always wanted to track the movement of an employee whom you suspected was using company time to chat on facebook or snacking before break time, you are not alone.

A multinational e-commerce company has received a patent for an ultrasonic bracelet. Via ultrasonic sound pulses, this bracelet can detect when and where warehouse workers put/remove items in inventory bins.

Employers can hardly be blamed for wanting to monitor employees. The reasons are manifold: productivity needs to be improved, slackers need to be identified; workplace harassment has to be stopped. When in the past, CCTVs and e-mail monitoring were enough, modern times entail invasive technology such as GPS tracking, social media monitoring, and gathering of biometric information.

Privacy rights now protected

More than 16 states in the USA have passed social media protection laws.  Before that legislation, there were reported cases of employees being suspended for refusing to let their superiors view their social media accounts.

On 1 Jan this year, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) took effect and gave employees the right to request the company to disclose the personal information that the company collected about them (the employees), provide copies of the same, and delete any part of that collated information.

The CCPA also gives individuals the right to pursue civil lawsuits against companies without reasonable security measures that result in data breaches. The law also requires employers to provide notice that they are collating data such as browsing history and biometric information, and the purpose for collating the same.

An earlier version of the CCPA had already existed in Europe in 2018, when the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) gave EU residents protection and control over the collection and use of their personal data.

In Asian countries, such as China, employers are permitted by law to monitor company property used by the employee such as computers, phones, and other devices—so long as the employee has been made aware that said monitoring will be done. The same is true in Singapore. As Dayne Ho, partner at Shook Lin & Bok states: “Employment contracts or company policies often contain clauses which expressly permit an employer to monitor an employee’s online behavior in the office or when using office resources. This could include personal email if it was accessed in such a manner.”

Relaxing the rules on millennials

Millennial employees are those born in the 1990s, and they are often called digital natives due to a large proportion being tech-obsessed.

A survey by Deloitte revealed that 40% of these employees expect to leave their job within two years, while fewer than 30% see being in the same job for more than five years as less than ideal. The report also disclosed that the magic phrase for millennial employees is “flexible work environment” and that they are willing to stay in companies that offer such a workplace.

Taking all the above into account, it is self-evident that putting a badge on millennials to determine if they are sitting down, checking their personal social media account or speaking too quickly to their customers would not be greatly appreciated.