Fitness trackers started with a simple goal of monitoring the number of steps taken in a day. Now wearable devices such as smart glasses, smart watches and sensor-embedded clothing and hats are improving job efficiency in the workplace. ABI Research predicts more than 500,000 wearables will be distributed to employees by 2021.[1]

Workplace wearables help both employees and businesses perform better. While these devices enable employees to perform their jobs with greater ease, companies are able to track employee activities, assess safety practices and improve productivity.

Some of the newest applications of workplace wearables include:[2]

  • Smart glasses give Volkswagen factory employees parts numbers, storage locations and other information they need to perform their work efficiently.
  • First responders, paramedics and firefighters are wearing monitors to track heart rates, respiration and overall stress levels in critical situations.
  • Posture-correcting wearables discourage slouching and prevent chronic back pain for office workers.
  • Smart hats monitor driver fatigue and help prevent accidents for truckers and heavy machinery operators.
  • Smart work boots contain sensors for temperature readings, Wi-Fi reception, motion tracking and location detection.

Privacy concerns

The increase in the number of workplace wearables is creating privacy concerns among employees. Privacy issues are complex as they involve the protection of employees’ personal and health data. Currently, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule does not cover employers who may come into possession of employee health information. But it is likely HIPAA will be amended to protect employees’ personal health data.[3]

Employees and unions are concerned about excessive employee surveillance with wearables. Legal experts recommend involving employees and unions in the early stages of developing policies and guidelines on how companies collect, store and use data derived from workplace wearables. This can instill greater trust and collaboration to achieve a shared sense of purpose.[4]

[1] “Wearables in the workplace and the dangers of staff surveillance,” by Jane Wild, Financial Times, Feb. 28, 2017. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/089c0d00-d739-11e6-944b-e7eb37a6aa8e?mhq5j=e5

[2] Compiled from: “Three inevitable impacts of wearables in the workplace,” by Oliver Threlfall, gadgetsandwearables.com blog, May 18, 2017. Available at: http://gadgetsandwearables.com/2017/05/18/workplace-wearables/; and “Wearables in the workplace: The tech taking over your office in 2017,” by Libby Plummer, wareable.com blog, Feb. 21, 2017. Available at: https://www.wareable.com/wearable-tech/wearables-in-the-workplace-office-235 and “Wearable Tech Coming to Construction Sites in 2017,” by Mariana Cid De Leon Ovalle, The Boss Magazine, July 19, 2017. Available at: https://thebossmagazine.com/construction-wearable-trends-2017/

[3] “The Rise of Wearable and Smart Technology in the Workplace,” a white paper by Clement L. Tsao, Kevin J. Haskins and Brian D. Hall, presented to the American Bar Association National Symposium on Technology in Labor and Employment Law, April 5-7, 2017. Available at: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/events/labor_law/2017/04/tech/papers/bhall_tech_paper.authcheckdam.pdf

[4] “The Rise of Wearable and Smart Technology in the Workplace,” a white paper by Clement L. Tsao, Kevin J. Haskins and Brian D. Hall, presented to the American Bar Association National Symposium on Technology in Labor and Employment Law, April 5-7, 2017. Available at: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/events/labor_law/2017/04/tech/papers/bhall_tech_paper.authcheckdam.pdf

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