It is not often that trade unions and employers are equally concerned about a problem that threatens workers’ rights. But recently, the UK Merchants Union Congress and the main body representing British businesses, the CBI, have raised concerns about the budding practice of microchipping employees.
Chips are initially used in place of ID cards as a way to open secure doors. But there are good reasons to believe that implant use could be extended to more sinister purposes, giving employers greater control over their workers and raising serious concerns about human dignity, ethics and health.
Businesses often need to somehow monitor employees to make sure they are completing their work and how much they need to pay. But in recent years, we have seen some more extreme monitoring methods that push the limits of personal privacy.
These include surveillance of employee emails, wearable technology that can track employee movements, and radio tags on factory products that allow bosses to monitor how quickly workers are operating in a facility. assembly line. But microchipping employees creates a new level of monitoring and control simply because workers cannot easily remove or turn them off.
Microchip implants are typically the size of a grain of rice inserted under the skin between the thumb and forefinger. They can allow people to enter buildings or use vending machines with the swipe of their hand.
Advocates say this makes life more comfortable since employees don’t have to carry identification badges or key chains. Organizations that deal with sensitive information also say that such chips allow them to place restrictions on who can access this information.
Not so innocuous
Most of the companies that use these chips present them in this rather innocuous way and think that the fear surrounding their use stems from misplaced suspicions. But excessive monitoring can make employees feel spied on, hurting their productivity, creativity, and motivation, as well as their personal well-being.
Some research also suggests that implanted chips are susceptible to security risks and increase the potential for identity theft since it is relatively easy to cut a microchip implant. Therefore, employees could be subject to something that really threatens their personal safety.
Furthermore, employers’ motivations for introducing chip implants are unlikely to be entirely altruistic. There is nothing to stop them from using technology to track the whereabouts or non-work activities of employees.
The chips can be reprogrammed within the body, modifying their use and purpose from what was initially agreed upon between the employer and the employee. And this ability to track an employee’s location without their knowledge raises serious ethical concerns regarding their right to privacy.
We have already seen how employers can use apparently collected data for benign purposes to discriminate against workers.
For example, personality tests designed to assess which job is most suitable for scrutiny to discriminate against people with mental health problems. The microchip implant data record where employees leave work could be used to discriminate in a similar way.
Even if the implants are technically voluntary, it’s not difficult to imagine situations where employees might feel pressured to accept the chips from their managers or warn them of unfavorable consequences if they disagree. Other increasingly intrusive forms of monitoring are already seen as an inescapable reality in many workplaces.
For example, remote access to emails means that some workers are expected to be available at any time. This increases pressure on employees to work longer hours at the expense of their private lives, as well as creating another way for employers to continue their activities.
Employees who choose not to participate in the company’s monitoring programs can also suffer real financial costs.
In 2013, a pharmaceutical company launched a controversial health screening program that allegedly required employees to disclose personal information to their insurance provider and threatened to charge them $ 600 a year if they refused. This kind of pressure can mentally condition workers to think that constant monitoring is the way to go.
There is also limited information on the safety and health risks associated with the use of chip implants. In addition to the potential risks to physical health, it is equally important for employers to understand the risks that microchip implants can pose to mental health.
Employees who receive an implant may feel compelled to modify their usual behaviors because they know that they are always being monitored and therefore experience high levels of stress and anxiety.
Also, we don’t know much about what type of surgical intervention might be required to safely remove a chip, especially if it moves away from its initial implant site.
The good news is that in many developed countries, companies are expected to offer employees a certain level of privacy.
In the EU, new data protection legislation (GDPR) means that employers are expected to conduct privacy impact assessments when they engage in processes that pose a high risk to data subjects’ rights. . Covert monitoring should only be carried out in exceptional cases when there is no other reasonable way to monitor employees.
This means that due to concerns about privacy risks, as well as health and safety posed by chip implants, any attempt to introduce them on a larger scale is likely to face strong legal challenges.
But that probably won’t stop some employers from seeing what they can do at a time when it’s increasingly common for private companies to know almost everything about us.
This article has been published from The Conversation by Shainaz Firfiray, Associate Professor of Human Resource Organization and Management, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.