Technology

How much does your boss need to know about you?

BBC – As more people start to return to their workplaces, many employers are introducing new ways to check up on their staff, from thermal scanners to wristbands.

For workers at any of Ford’s sites worldwide, there are two new steps to the morning routine. First, answer three health questions, on your mobile phone, confirming you aren’t a risk to your co-workers. Then, get scanned at the entrance to your workplace to check you aren’t running a temperature.

It’s not just Ford, these measures are now typical for many firms as employees return. Amazon, Walmart and dozens of others – including the BBC – have introduced thermal scanners. The move is broadly welcomed by workforces, as keen as their bosses to ensure the virus is contained.

“We’ve not had anyone say no,” says Ford’s John Gardiner. “Knowing the risks, people understand we’re doing as much as we can to protect their health and safety.”

All Ford employees have to answer health questions and get their temperature scanned before entering their workplace

While governments wrestle with data protection issues around app-based track-and-trace, many firms are planning their own schemes.

Accounting giant PwC has developed an app called Check-In, which is being tested in its Shanghai office. Employees’ mobiles register if they come into close proximity to co-workers. If someone tests positive for Covid-19, recent close contacts can be informed and asked to isolate. PwC expects to be able to market this to other employers.

A PwC worker in India: the firm has developed an app to monitor how close employees are to each other

By contrast, start-ups including Locix and Microshare in the US, and Europe’s Rombit, Estimote and Kinexon are among the many offering track-and-trace systems that don’t need smartphones, but use wristbands and lanyards to monitor your physical location.

Companies preferring video surveillance can turn to firms like Glimpse Analytics and Smartvid.io, which have adapted their artificial intelligence to see if workers are keeping their distance and even if they’re wearing face masks.

A few firms test their staff for the virus itself. Although it is an expensive approach, some offshore oil rigs, mines, and other confined worksites see this as the safest approach. Amazon has even said it’s building its own testing facility.

Firms can make complying with monitoring a condition of entering a building

Anna Elliott at international law firm Osborne Clarke says she is advising clients they should consider staff privacy and consult unions before introducing new surveillance measures.

“If your employer is acting properly, in good faith, I don’t think we should be too worried,” she says. What it shouldn’t be is a “smash and grab” to get as much information on your employees as possible.

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