Why you could be fired for refusing to use fingerprint or face scanners

Face or fingerprint scanning systems in the workplace could replace swipe cards, and companies could sack workers who refused to use them.

Facial recognition technology is already in use at airports, but it’s also being employed by companies including SkyCity, Foodstuffs and The Warehouse to watch customers.

Employers can use fingerprint readers, voice recognition systems, as well as face, hand or iris scanners to track absenteeism or for health and safety or security reasons. Microchips have also entered the employment scene in countries including the United States.

But employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk said workers who refused to share their biometric data when a company had legitimate reasons to use it, could lose their jobs.

This could only happen after the employer had considered the worker’s explanation, and explored whether any reasonable alternatives were available first, she said.

The Privacy Act restricts employers to only collecting information about a person with their consent, except in limited circumstances, for instance, covert surveillance of an employee for suspected theft.

But Hornsby-Geluk said employers could make the collection of biometric data a condition of employment in an employment agreement.

“In this way the employee could either consent and take the job, or not,” she said.

In December, Christchurch company KME Services that used biometrics to keep track of staff was ordered to pay a former employee $23,200 in compensation and lost wages after unfairly sacking a worker who refused to use a face scanning system to sign in at work.

The Employment Relations Authority found that KME Services did not consult with staff before implementing the technology and misled them about the purpose.

Hornsby-Geluk said employees could opt out of biometric data being collected, if they had a personal legitimate reason such as a religious objection.

Dundas Street Employment Lawyers partner Susan Hornsby-Geluk says workers who refuse to share their biometric data, when a company has a legitimate reason to use it could lose their job.
Dundas Street Employment Lawyers partner Susan Hornsby-Geluk says workers who refuse to share their biometric data, when a company has a legitimate reason to use it could lose their job.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said there could also be limitations around people opting out if the purpose for biometrics was central to high security, for instance.

Edwards said business wanting to deploy biometrics for workers needed to undertake a “thorough” privacy impact assessment.

He said businesses must press the third party data collector for detailed information on how the system worked, what data was collected, and how it would be kept secure and used only for the employer’s immediate legitimate needs.

“A biometric is quite sensitive information. You can’t change your face. If that service provider leaked or sold the biometric, that could have quite profound effects on the individual’s privacy,” Edwards said.

Honsby-Geluk said workers were entitled to request any personal information about them held by their employer at any time, including biometric data.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards says business wanting to deploy biometrics for workers needed to undertake a "thorough" privacy impact assessment.
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards says business wanting to deploy biometrics for workers needed to undertake a “thorough” privacy impact assessment.

She said information could only be collected by an employer for a lawful purpose and used only for that purpose.

“If biometric data was being collected primarily for health and safety reasons, it is unlikely that the employer could justify continuing to hold it after an employee leaves.

“An employee may be able to justify holding on to timesheet data for up to six years as this is the period during which an arrears of wages claim could be made by an employee or ex employee.” (Click to Source)

 

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