Wearables in the workplace: Treat health data with careful consideration

As use of wearables in the workplace grows, concerns loom about the collection of private health information by employers.

Chris Brauer, director of innovation and senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, told the Wall Street Journal that eventually the industry will reach a point where requiring wearables won't even be a question.

Last fall, Barclays and 20 other companies signed on to bring Fitbits to their employees, buying the wearables company's devices in bulk, FierceMobileHealthcare reported. Barclays announced it would provide the devices to 75,000 employees through a cost-sharing plan before expanding that to its 140,000 global employees.

However, Edward McNicholas, co-leader of privacy, data security and information law at law firm Sidley Austin LLP, told the WSJ that requiring employees to use wearables, especially when it comes to deeply personal health data, is a "Orwellian overreach."

He added that accuracy of such data also will be a concern. Currently there are questions about the veracity of many apps and devices, and while "making decisions about people based on their private information is bad enough ... [w]orse would be making decisions based on private health data that was wrong."

As far as whether using a wearable that collects health data could mean trouble for an employee, say if an employee's data showed they did not sleep well the night before and thus are passed over for a specific responsibility, both said such information should be taken into careful consideration before any decisions are made based off of it.

"Given that different people require different amounts of sleep, it would be difficult for any manager to make meaningful decisions" from that data, Simpson said.

McNicholas added that companies should use such information to create health and wellness strategies for their workforce. There is much health information that employers could use to help their employees and keep them safe, he said.

He added that employees have a right to know about information collected by their employer that show a possible risk to their health.

To learn more:
- here's the WSJ article