Yes, you read that correctly. Microchipping employees. And, no, that’s a real headline. A technology company in the USA has been widely reported as microchipping employees in place of their security and identity cards.
The first thing to get out of the way here is that they aren’t implanting an actual, square computer chip. Rather, they insert a tiny implant (the same size as a grain of rice) between an employee’s thumb and forefinger with a syringe. Apparently, removing it is akin to taking out a splinter (ouch?)
Now, apparently, the ‘younger generation’ are most likely to get onboard with this in the future. Well, I’m in my twenties and I’m not tempted in the slightest. Saying that, I hate needles, so that’s a poor starting point…
Looking at the wider picture, we live in a world of fingerprint ID on phones and being able to unlock the latest phone handsets with your own face. So why is an implant so controversial?
And I ask that question because, in reality, any UK employer could do the same. Obviously, they’d need the qualified consent of those staff members (in writing) and they would have to treat the data obtained from the device responsibly (i.e. within current Data Protection regulations) but, ultimately, there is no law or regulation against this practice.
The issue here is a moral one. The majority of people expect a certain degree of personal space and bodily integrity in daily life and, particularly, whilst at work. Put simply, piercing the skin of an individual to insert a device of any kind is not going to be welcomed by most people. After all, we live in a generation where the phrase ‘work life balance’ has become more prevalent due to the difficulty in switching off from work. Why have a permanent remainder literally under your skin?
Even for the non-squeamish amongst us, many employees would have fears of the chip being used as a tracking device. Save to say, this would most likely be illegal in the vast majority of circumstances including, for example, an employer using the chip to track the movements of an employee who is absent on sickness absence. However, in the hands of a overzealous employer, who is to say they won’t use it irresponsibly? Whether a justified fear or not, that fear will cause increased stress and anxiety to employees who are already ill and, most likely, make things worse.
Let’s be honest here, we live in a world of constant firmware updates and hardware upgrades. I don’t seem to be able to turn my iPhone off without it demanding another update these days (it almost makes me yearn the simplicity of an old-school Nokia 3410…) Eventually, the employee’s chip will need replacing or updating and, instead of a simple streamed update, early versions of microchips may need replacing after a set amount of time. In the same way as ‘removing a splinter’ remember… Hardly a pleasant experience.
Whilst microchipping employees, in itself, isn’t an illegal act, it does pose multiple legal risks to employers. Firstly, if an employee refused to consent to being microchipped and the employer dismissed them in direct response, that is likely to constitute Unfair Dimsissal. Secondly, the act of implanting microchips is likely to contravene the religious beliefs of some employees (Jehovah’s witnesses, for example) and any detriment to any employee who refuses on religious grounds would constitute discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Alternatively, if the chip caused infection and/or caused damage to an employee’s body due to being negligently implanted, the employer would be liable in a Personal Injury claim.
And, finally, being blunt here, employees don’t stay forever. Eventually, the decision will be made for employee and employer to part ways. Sometimes it is amicable and sometimes it isn’t. The most obvious issues would arise during a non-amicable split. Let’s use an example:
Bobby works for a company and accuses his female Manager of sexual harassment. Bobby has tried to ignore his Manager’s sexist comments and actions but, eventually, he can’t stand it anyomre and raises a formal grievance. Unfortunately, his employer naively believes that only woman can suffer sexual harassment (a very mistaken perspective) and ignores his grievance. Due to this, Bobby suffers poor health due to anxiety linked to the discrimination and resigns. He is signed off by his Doctor during his notice period.
Now, legally-speaking, can his employer demand the removal of the chip from his body despite him not being on the premises? If he refuses, could they dock his wages by £250 (yes, they currently cost around £250 each!) due to his refusal to allow them to remove it? Would he even be able to safely remove the microchip himself and send it back? These are all interesting questions but, as a starting point, any action taken without the employee’s qualified consent risks being classed as criminal assault.
Now, just to conclude here, I’m not a technological dinosaur. I love technology – as my fiancé would no doubt confirm given my current iPhone, Kindle, iPad, GPS running watches and 14 games consules (yes, I know!) However, for me, technology has to be two things – first, smart, and secondly, offer a real benefit.
And what is the benefit of microchipping over a traditional ID card? Yes, it is technically harder to steal or lose. But at £250 each, I doubt that alone justifies the additional cost and helps it overcome the moral dilemma of microchipping. I mean, if employers want to appear ‘edgey’ and be at the forefront of safe security, install fingerprint recognition.
Given the above, I hope the act of microchipping employees turns out to be more “Tomorrow’s World” than “Back to the Future”…