business law

Handling Privacy Issues Facing Businesses in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The employee sits in a cubicle at work when the app on her smart phone alerts her to the fact that someone has just pushed the doorbell button on the employee’s front porch 18 miles away. The small camera on the porch relays the fact that it is just the U.S. postal carrier delivering a small box. The employee smiles, leans back at her desk, and thanks the “Internet of Things” for allowing her to be the sovereign of her castle, even from such a distance.

The employee gives no thought to the fact that, with the advent of “smart employee IDs,” her supervisor not only has the means to know the employee’s current whereabouts, but the supervisor and employer might have a dataset outlining most, if not all, the employee’s movement during the last fortnight.

There has certainly been an explosion in the number of smart devices in the Internet of Things – the system through which everyday objects like phones, home alarm systems, refrigerators, and driverless vehicles connect to the Internet in order to send and receive data. Unfortunately, employers have been provided with little guidance in how they should handle employee privacy concerns. While wearable ID badges may have initially been handed out to employees to track their lunch breaks or work hours, employers also have the ability, through those same devices, to track and collect other employee data, via GPS triangulation, since the tracking need not end at the employer’s front door. The result is that employers may purposefully – or inadvertently – be gathering information that should be considered private.

Flow of Information Goes Both Ways

Employees aren’t the only ones concerned with the flow of sensitive data. Savvy employers have the same sort of privacy concern since information can flow in two directions. The plethora of connected devices that extend beyond the workplace provides a potential point of intrusion into the employer’s computer systems. As employees bring to work personal devices and electronic wearables capable of connecting to the employer’s computer networks, the employer’s data is more and more vulnerable.

Employers Should Document Privacy Policies

Until the law responds to the issues in the workplace, employers should clearly document their privacy policies, particularly those that relate to trackable devices, such as employee IDs. The policies should reach in two directions:

  • Outward, to inform employees what data the employer is tracking, and
  • Inward, to provide ground rules as to how that collected data is being stored and maintained.

Volume of Data Presents its Own Liability Concerns

Data experts caution that the sheer volume of data that can be amassed by the employer generates liability concerns that extend beyond just privacy concerns. They can be used to show how one employee is favored or disfavored over another. For example, if one employee is fired for excessive absenteeism – even if employer ID information was not utilized in tracking the employee’s time and duties – the employee may point to the fact that the employer had similar data related to other employees and chose to do nothing about it. It won’t be long until employee data becomes evidence in a discrimination claim.

What Current Practice Does Your Business Utilize When it Comes to Employee Data?

Do you currently utilize employee wearables to track movement of your workers within the workplace? Have you considered the privacy concerns involved with gathering and preserving that data? Have you recognized that, in many respects, federal and state law have failed to catch up with technology? Accessing employee data without appropriate procedures to guard privacy may violate federal statutes such as the Stored Communications Act and may further be actionable as invasion of privacy violations.

The Milwaukee business litigation firm of Kerkman Wagner & Dunn has more than 50 years of combined legal experience representing business owners in Wisconsin in all sorts of business and employment matters, particularly those that involve litigation. We have experience with employment issues and understand how the employee privacy concerns can affect your business. Our firm has big firm talent and provides small firm attention. Call us at 414-278-7000 or complete our online contact form.

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