Algorithms at Work: Productivity Monitoring Applications and Wearable Technology as the New Data-Centric Research Agenda for Employment and Labor Law

Article Source: St. Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 63, No. 1, pp. 21-54, 2018
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Increasingly, employers use applications and wearable technologies to monitor employees at work. Monitoring systems raise new legal issues related to privacy rights, discrimination, and worker safety.


Policy Relevance:

Workers’ reasonable expectations of privacy have no settled, clear definition.


Key Takeaways:
  • Productivity monitoring apps and wearable technologies have altered organizations' management of employees and raise new legal questions concerning employee privacy rights.
  • Productivity monitoring applications call for rebalancing of employer's pecuniary interests and workers' privacy rights.
    • Employees often object to the use of smartphone apps and GPS to monitor their conduct outside of work, when they are on call.
    • Courts have ruled that tracking company vehicles does not violate privacy rights, but tracking workers’ own vehicles outside of work hours may violate reasonable expectations of privacy.
  • Monitoring applications might help or worsen the situation of employees struggling with hostile work environments.
  • Wearable technologies in the workplace such as helmets, bracelets, and vests raise new legal issues related to privacy concerns, discrimination, worker safety, and workers' compensation.
    • The devices strain privacy constraints, such as the requirement that notice and consent be given for data collection.
    • Wearable devices often collect health-related data and may support discrimination against those with disabilities.
    • Data collected by these devices can be used to improve safety, or serve as evidence in injury-related lawsuits.
  • Privacy law researchers should better define a "reasonable expectation of privacy" for employees, and resolve legal questions over employers' use of data about employees.



 Ifeoma  Ajunwa

About Ifeoma Ajunwa

Ifeoma Ajunwa is the AI.Humanity Professor of Law and Ethics and the Founding Director of the AI and the Law Program at Emory Law. Starting January 2024, she will also be the Associate Dean for Projects and Partnerships. Additionally, Professor Ajunwa has been a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University since 2017. Her research interests are at the intersection of law and technology with a particular focus on the ethical governance of workplace technologies, and also on diversity and inclusion in the labor market and the workplace.