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Regulating the Recording Features of Personal Wearable Technology in the Workplace

By Stan Hill

With each passing day, personal wearable technology, like the Apple Watch and Google Glass, becomes more mainstream and technologically advanced.  Employers should be aware of the challenges posed by employees wearing their technology into the workplace.  Businesses have already had to consider decreased productivity, exposure to computer viruses, and potential data breaches caused by personal wearable technology in the workplace.  In addition, employers are now wondering if personal wearable devices are being used to discretely and instantaneously record events and copy information in the workplace.  Several employment laws are implicated when employers seek to regulate the recording features of personal wearable technology in the workplace.

Restrictions on personal wearable technology in the workplace are subject to Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibits workplace rules and policies that chill discussions among non-management employees about wages, working conditions, work instructions, and the exercise of other concerted activities for mutual aid or protection.  NLRB General Counsel Memorandum No. 15-04  contains examples of both over broad and lawful work rules restricting recording devices in the workplace.  These examples are instructive when drafting employment policies restricting personal wearable devices.  

Under Section 7, employers may prohibit employees from copying or disclosing confidential or proprietary information about the employer’s business, using wearable technology or otherwise.  Employers may also prohibit employees from taking, distributing, or posting on social media pictures, video, and audio recordings of work areas while on working time, so long as the policy carves an exception for conduct protected by Section 7.  The exception should expressly cite specific examples of permitted recordings, such as “taking pictures of health, safety and/or working condition concerns or of strike, protests and work-related issues and/or other protected concerted activities.”  Existing employment policies restricting personal cell phone and camera use in the workplace should be updated to include restrictions on the use of recording features of wearable technology.

The recording features of personal wearable technology also provide new methods and means for employees to engage in unlawful workplace harassment and other workplace misconduct.  Employers should consider revising their anti-harassment and conduct policies to prohibit the use of wearable technology, including its recording features, in an unlawful manner.  As technology continues to evolve, so too should employment policies, to address the use of such personal devices in the workplace.