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You microchip your pet, so why not your employees?

The idea that employees should be microchipped for purposes of security.
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You microchip your pet, so why not your employees?

You microchip your pet, so why not your employees?

29 May 2019

As management innovations go, there can be few that strike more horror into the hearts of ordinary working people than the idea that employees should be microchipped for purposes of security or data access.

Employers, too, have expressed concerns about the emerging practice of implanting chips in the arms of staff instead of using ID cards or numerical codes to open secure doors.

Microchipping dogs and cats is standard practice so that lost pets can be easily reunited with their owners, but microchipping human beings has a terrible whiff of ‘Big Brother’-type control, inevitably arousing fears of invasion of privacy. Anyone with even the tiniest flicker of interest in civil liberties, ethical practices and human dignity must surely be prompted to question the wisdom of such a strategy.

But like everything else, the practice of microchipping staff has its advocates and its detractors, its pros and its cons.

Pros of microchipping

It’s understandable that businesses need ways to check that workers are completing their tasks and earning their pay, and to ensure that there is no unauthorised access to premises or confidential information. In these days of industrial espionage, valuable client lists and privacy laws, protection of data is a must, not to mention the threat of hackers, malware and computer viruses.

Where employees have accepted the insertion of microchips – the size of a large grain of rice – under their skin, some report satisfaction with the convenience of being able to book train tickets, start your car, enter secure buildings, log onto your computer and even order and pay for lunch, all with a wave of your hand.

Cons of microchipping

Chief among the worries with microchipping is the fear the chips could be remotely re-programmed while they’re in you, and that you wouldn’t be happy with all the uses made of the available information about where you go and what you do.

Control is a key issue – would you be fine with someone further up the workplace hierarchy looking at data showing your movements, how fast you work and even what you buy?

Privacy from surveillance such as this is shaping up to be a major focus of the 21st century. The practice of credit rating by financial institutions to monitor a person’s track record with money management and assess their credit-worthiness is well-established, setting the stage for more comprehensive monitoring.

In China, it has been expanded in scope to provide information to a system of ‘social credit’, under which individuals can gain points for purchases of, for example, baby-care products – indicating they’re spending on the care of someone else – and lose points by, for example, buying too much alcohol. The loss of points – a low social credit rating – can have real consequences such as being effectively unable to buy a train ticket to another city.

Moreover, it is said to be relatively easy to hack a microchip implant, putting the bearer at risk of illegitimate uses by others. The potential for misuse of the information in order to discriminate against or disadvantage certain individuals is a source of concern, especially if the information from the chip is used to track where an employee goes when not at work.

And commentators have also noted that though the implants may be accepted voluntarily, it’s easy to imagine a situation where someone feels under pressure to accept them or face unfavourable consequences, or where they feel coerced into modifying their usual behaviour because they know they’re being monitored.

Employers’ obligations

Employers can only require employees to comply with directions that are ‘lawful and reasonable’, so the big question is whether a direction – or the provision of incentives – for employees to accept microchips would be ‘reasonable’.

The uses to which information from microchips can be put would be subject to workplace surveillance legislation such as the New South Wales Workplace Surveillance Act 2005, the Workplace Surveillance Regulation 2017 and the Surveillance Devices Act 2007, which set out the limitations that employers must take into account.

In addition, health and safety laws as well as industrial instruments require consultation of the workforce if a change in work practices is likely to have a significant effect on employees or their health or safety, so a decision to introduce staff microchipping would not be a straightforward matter of management prerogative.

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