Employers Introduce Biometric Attendance Systems: Resistance is Futile?

August 20th, 2013 by Dan Stone

Remember those television shows and movies that centred on a top secret mission and involved the protagonist trying to gain entry into a building that would either require a fingerprint or retina scan? Remember thinking to yourself, ‘How cool is that’? Well, now imagine instead of being on a top secret mission, you are trying to gain entry into your workplace and instead of saving the world at the end of the day, your employer knows exactly when you entered the building, left for the day, and how long you took for lunch. How cool does it sound now?

Biometric attendance systems, which essentially measure the size and shape of an employee’s hand and then transform those measurements into a unique number tied to that specific employee, have led to complaints when two employers in Alberta tried to use them. In turn this led the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta (“OIPCA”) to investigate the claims. In both instances the (“OIPCA”) found that employers need to make sure that employees understand what information is being collected and what it is being used for. Additionally, despite OIPCA finding that more could be done to satisfy requirements set out in Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, OIPCA ultimately decided the manner which the information was collected was reasonable.

Employers Introduce Biometric Attendance Systems: Resistance is Futile?Employers in Ontario have also been considering implementing biometric attendance systems. A law firm in Toronto last year mentioned how it would be requiring legal assistants and copy room staff to submit to the biometric attendance systems. This immediately led to an uproar among those employees who would be subjected to the biometric attendance systems. They claimed that they were not being treated fairly, as other individuals in the law firm (i.e., lawyers) would not have to submit to this type of identification.

Ontario, like Alberta, also has its own Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and because the information obtained from the biometric attendance system is personally identifiable information, it is also protected under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Personal Health Information Protection Act in Ontario, andthe federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Therefore, there is some legislation in place to help ensure that employers are not handling or collecting employees’ personal information in a manner that could put their identity at risk.

This technology has undoubtedly led to some mixed reactions. There are those who say, “If you’re arriving at work on time, leaving when you should, and not taking a long lunch, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.” Others will insist that the technology only brews discontent in the workplace and instills a sense of distrust among employees and employers. While some might say “It’s going to happen everywhere eventually, so might as well start now.”

Perhaps given the technological state that we live in today, with cameras literally everywhere we go, watching our every move,  and individuals voluntarily giving away personal information about themselves on social media websites to the entire world, this really is not that big of a deal. This is not to say that if and when Employers Introduce Biometric Attendance Systems, should employers have carte blanche to collect whatever information they like. Surely, they will have to stay within the guidelines and rules set out by the various pieces of legislation. Protection of personal information should remain paramount in anything employers decide to do going forward with biometric attendance systems. But perhaps employees should come to accept the technologically advanced world we live in and realize that it was only a matter of time before something like this entered the workplace.

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