Five questions employers should answer before introducing wearable wellness devices


While the devices offer various benefits and also keep a check on employee health, they may have drawbacks too if precautions are not considered beforehand.

With advances in technology, related cost efficiency and increasing awareness and impetus around employee wellness, wearable fitness devices have become significantly popular. So much so, that many organisations see it as a tool to optimise their wellness cost by monitoring and keeping a track of employee health, and mitigating health risks while encouraging and incentivising healthy lifestyles.

The devices offer various benefits in addition to keeping a check on employee health and encouraging them to do better at maintaining their own fitness. However, there are certain aspects that can go against an employer if not considered beforehand. The employers need to answer these five questions, before making these devices a part of their wellness plan or else the very idea of introducing wearables may totally go wrong.

Who controls the kind of data collected and its viewership?

Before introducing wearables at the workplace, employers need to clearly define what kind of data will be collected by the device, and who can view or share it. With advanced gadgets available now, many wearable devices can track much more than just the number of steps taken in a day. In addition to heart rate or blood pressure, devices can now monitor some other signifiers of health as well.

While that may not be much of an issue, there is other indirect information that may be stored in these devices. For instance, a GPS-enabled device may not only count steps but serve as an electronic roadmap of wherever an employee has been. Such information certainly needs to be protected or used wisely to ensure employee privacy.

Who owns and has user rights for the data collected?

This needs to be pre-defined along with the service provider. After an organisation has decided on the specific metrics or data the device would provide, it should next consider the ownership and user rights to the data. For example, Fitbit, one of the popular wearables, shares aggregated data with its partners and the public, although in a de-identified manner. This means, any organisation looking to make it available for its employees should be wary of the potential methods by which employee data may be disclosed.

Data or information of which the ownership and security is questionable is of no use to the organisation. Hence, it is important to carefully define the terms of use with the service provider.

Can the data collected be used against the employer for any legal claims?

Although the intentions of an employer in including wearable wellness devices in its employee wellness plan may be all good, the data collected could be used for legal claims by an employee as well, and organisations need to be wary of that. This needs to be considered by an employer, while framing policies around the usage of data collected. Employers should check whether the data collection conflicts with any of the applicable laws.

For instance, an employee may claim to have suffered discrimination in case an employer decides to penalise sedentary employees and reward the active ones.

Is there an efficient usage policy in place?

Considering the sensitivity of the data collected by these devices, it is extremely critical for employers to be aware of the specifics of data and accordingly frame strong policies around the use of such data. The policies should be framed keeping in mind that the data is protected and all applicable laws are complied with. That said, it is best to consult with an experienced lawyer to assist in drafting appropriate policies.Creating and implementing efficient policies regarding the use of employee fitness data can both protect the employer from potential claims and provide clarity to the employee.

Thought of the way ahead?

With rapid advancements in technology, the devices could offer far more uses than just track fitness, in the near future. Some futuristic employers are already utilising wearables to ensure employee safety in the workplace, and although that is still industry or job-specific, the technology is just going to enhance over time. For instance, a company called SmartCap producesa wearable wellness tracker that looks like a regular baseball cap but doubles up as a wearable that monitors user fatigue. The caps are especially designed for truck drivers who are at risk of drowsy driving. The collected information can be sent to a device in the truck’s cab or even an external location to alert the driver or someone monitoring the worker that the driver is becoming sleepy, thus preventing accidents.

In fact, a survey by The Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc. stated that 27 percent of US adults, 28 percent of French adults and a whopping 56 percent of adults from India said that improving safety was the No. 1 factor that would make workers more eager to use wearables at work.

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