959695New mobile phone technology may allow employers to track very precise movements and activities of employees, such as walking, climbing stairs or even cleaning. As reported by Michael Fitzpatrick of BBC News, the technology developed by KDDI Corporation, a Japanese company, “works by analyzing the movement of accelerometers, found in many handsets.” This enhanced level of monitoring likely will raise serious concerns for courts seeking to balance an employer’s legitimate need to monitor employees with an employee’s expectation of privacy.

To get a sense of how sensitive this technology is, Mr. Fitzpatrick notes that a KDDI mobile phone

strapped to a cleaning worker’s waist can tell the difference between actions performed such as scrubbing, sweeping, walking and even emptying a rubbish bin.

Employers should proceed with caution. There certainly are legitimate business reasons for gathering and analyzing this kind of data:

  • Improving customer service
  • Enhancing employee productivity
  • Identifying safety concerns and rectifying them
  • Ensuring employees are performing only assigned tasks
  • Confirming employees are working when they say that they are

At the same time, significant concerns about the technology and how it is implemented, together with the potential for unintended consequences, should motivate employers to think carefully before using this equipment:

  • Does the technology really work as advertised?
  • Can employees manipulate the “accelerometers,” creating false positives for employers?
  • When should/must employers turn the monitoring off?
  • Will effects will data capable of showing the time, date and duration of certain activities have in the areas of wage and hour law, collective bargaining, classification of workers as employees versus independent contractors, workers’ compensation, administration of leaves of absence, and so on?
  • Will data collected constitute personal information to be safeguarded and retained?
  • Will employers be required to produce information collected through these mobile phones in unrelated litigation, such as where an employee’s spouse seeking to prove claims of adultery in a divorce action seeks “phone” records to show the location and activity of the employee-spouse?
  • Some states already have laws dealing with electronic monitoring, but it is unclear how those laws will apply to this new technology. For example, a Connecticut statute prohibits employers from recording or monitoring the activities of employees in areas designed for the health or personal comfort of the employees or for safeguarding of their possessions, such as rest rooms, locker rooms or lounges operating.  When Connecticut employers perform permissible electronic monitoring on their premises, they must provide employees with prior written notice

However, if these phones work as intended, the level of intrusiveness likely will spur opposition by privacy advocates and additional legislation. It also is possible that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in City of Ontario, Ontario Police Department, and Lloyd Scharf v. Jeff Quon, et al., currently before the Court, will provide guidance for employers and lower courts as they consider the effects new technologies have on workplace privacy issues. In that case, one issue the Court is considering is whether a California police department violated the privacy of one of its officers when it read the personal text messages on his department issued pager.

There is no doubt technology will continue to advance and bring with it enhanced functionality and capabilities. While the law will try to keep pace, employers will be challenged to apply these technologies in ways that meet the demands of their business, while avoiding the pitfalls of law not yet clearly established.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.