Biometric technology for HR, although not without its critics, is fast becoming an effective, attractive solution to security and timekeeping challenges faced by organizations. Biometric technology can automatically determine a person's identity by comparing unique physical characteristics against a computer database, thereby allowing organizations to use fingerprints or facial (or retinal or voice) recognition to control access to buildings or work environments.
The biometric tech trend hasn't received as much attention as other technologies, such as cloud computing, but it's quietly gaining adoption. "[M]ore organizations are employing [biometric tech] to improve timekeeping processes, to authenticate user identity on corporate networks and to enhance building security," according to an article from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). The SHRM article offers the example of a San Francisco-based non-profit organization with a mobile workforce that previously used handwritten timecards for timekeeping but now utilizes biometrics via GPS-enabled mobile devices.
An Array of Benefits for HR
Among the many timekeeping advantages that biometric technology can provide is halting the abuse known as "buddy punching," where one employee clocks in for another. An additional advantage offered by biometric tech is the ability to automatically cut off employee access to computer systems once the employee has clocked out, thus protecting the organization against potentially costly wage-and-hour class actions from employees claiming to have worked off the clock.
Moreover, biometrics such as a simple thumbprint can be used to keep tabs on workers who drive organization owned vehicles or handle other company property. Finally, employee wellness programs can be made more effective and personalized via biometric screening of participants, checking workers for risk factors such as high cholesterol. The potential uses and benefits of biometric technology for HR are increasing daily.
Employee Objections to Biometric Technology
Like any fast-emerging, disruptive technology, biometrics has its detractors. Some employees have viewed it as an invasion of personal privacy, expressing concern over the collection and storage of uniquely personal data. Other employees have objected on religious grounds, as did an Evangelical Christian worker at West Virginia-based Consol Energy, who claimed that requiring him to undergo a hand scan for timekeeping did not accomodate his religious beliefs. In January of 2015, a federal jury sided with this employee and awarded him $150,000 in compensatory damages.
In the face of privacy-related objections to biometric technology, you can clearly explain how data is being secured against theft or misuse. As C.R. Wright notes in Human Resource Executive Online, "[e]mployees often express fears that the data could be compromised, stolen or misused." Wright adds, however, that those concerns are often unfounded. In many cases, biometric technologies cannot actually reproduce individual data; they rely instead on comparison models. Clear communication can assuage your employees' fears and prevent misunderstandings about the technology.
Tips for Implementation
Wright recommends five practical tips for reducing employee objections when implementing biometric technology:
- Inform employees in writing before setting up the system, explaining why it's needed and describing safeguards for employee data. Consider employee feedback before the implementation.
- Review laws and regulations about privacy before implementation.
- Have strict security systems in place to prevent data breaches.
- If your organization is unionized, verify your right to use the system under your existing CBA.
- Be prepared to accommodate employees who raise objections based on religious grounds, disability or other protected legal status.
Biometric technology offers a growing number of benefits for HR, from better security to more accurate timekeeping to performance tracking. It's a safe bet that more biometric technology will be entering the workplace in the future, despite occasional employee objections. To implement the technology well, it's best to anticipate employee complaints, develop solutions that address their concerns and be as transparent as possible in communicating those solutions.
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