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Welcome to Your Future Workspace: A Biometric Sensing Work Cubicle

A new type of work cubicle could be in your future.  Some companies have already installed small, isolation cubicles designed for employees who need to take a break from loud, open-floor offices.  These “pods” have grown in popularity and are becoming a sought-after perk for high-stress environments.  One of the companies developing such pods is called Framery. But, Framery has a twist; technology that monitors employees’ heart rates and breathing. The purported goal? Anticipating and preventing employee burnout.  

For the past year, the new pod has been tested exclusively on Framery’s own employees.  The company hopes someday for a large-scale rollout, but health privacy concerns may be its undoing. According to Framery’s CEO and co-founder, Samu Hallfors, “Whether we offer it to our customers is still undecided….”

Privacy Concerns Abound

According to Hallfors, the data currently being collected by Framery is anonymous and therefore not identifiable to any specific worker. The data-gathering method is straightforward; the pod seat has sensors that track blood pressure. That data is then put into an algorithm to determine the employee’s biological “mood.” Gathering such data may help predict burnout, but it also generates major privacy concerns.

Privacy issues arise in at least two ways. First, more and more states have statutes limiting and protecting employees’ biometric data from being used by employers. Often, such laws contemplate retinal scans or fingerprints to unlock office doors or punching in and out of work. Almost all these states require written permission to collect employee biometric data. Often, the statutes also regulate what data is collected; some statutes go so far as to ask if there is a more limited type of data that would reach the same goal. The breadth of these laws is varied so be sure to check with competent counsel to understand your state requirements.

The second challenge is biometric data may reveal medical conditions that employers are best served not knowing. If an employer makes a work-related decision based on such knowledge (or even if it just happens to appear that way), the employer may inadvertently violate state and federal disability (and possibly other discrimination) laws. Since learning an employee has high blood pressure, a heart condition, or is pregnant is normally not job related, employers are typically best served not collecting the information at all.  

Although Framery may have the best of intentions–identifying possible burnout and preventing it before it becomes a major problem–there are serious regulatory hurdles to overcome before these biometric pods find their way into an office space near you.  If you are considering such devices, or any other biometric data collecting tool, seek competent legal counsel.

Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying with the latest local, state, and federal employment laws.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.