5 ethical, legal concerns of wearables in the workplace

Companies are increasingly incorporating wearables into corporate wellness programs, incentivizing employees to be active and get fit in exchange for gift cards or lowered health insurance premiums. However, tracking employees' data and activity poses legal and ethical concerns for employers.

Here are five concerns and areas for employers to take extra precaution when it comes to corporate wellness programs, according to The Wall Street Journal.

1. Many corporate wellness programs are optional, and employers mostly stay away from any collected data, instead seeking third party companies to maintain the information, which is already anonymized. However, Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney for digital privacy advocate group Electronic Frontier Foundation, told WSJ employers probably can legally mandate on-the-job wearables, though within limits. Mr. Tien said it is best to collect as little data as possible to avoid privacy challenges.

2. Jason Geller, partner at law firm Fisher & Phillips, told WSJ employers mandating wearables should provide a policy outlining the reason for collecting data as well as limits on how the company will use the data. Employers risk claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act if less active employees feel they are being penalized or discriminated against in promotions due to productivity levels, according to the report.

3. Another question that arises is whether employers should notify employees of a health concern if one is made apparent in their data. Edward McNicholas, a partner at law firm Sidley Austin, offered WSJ the hypothetical example of entrance to a secure facility requiring retina scans. Should the employer notify the employee if the scan detects symptoms of diabetes? Mr. McNicholas told WSJ he would advise clients to inform employees.

4. Devices with recording or location tracking capabilities pose spying concerns, and employers should draft policies on when the devices should be turned off, according to the report. For example, if an employee is attending a union meeting, the recording or location tracking capabilities could reveal that individual's whereabouts.

5. Wearables present a new dynamic in the workplace, one that may alter how companies and employees interact. "The only thing that is clear is that we are at the cusp of what could be a dramatically different relationship between employers and employees," Mr. McNicholas told WSJ.

More articles on wearables:

3 observations on health IT & patient expectations
85% of physicians say wearables increase patient engagement & 4 additional findings
UnitedHealthcare launches wellness program powered by wearables: 5 things to know

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