Employee Rights Concerning Biometrics

by Ruth Mayhew; Updated September 26, 2017
Some employers are incorporating biometrics into their technology systems for added security.

An organization responsible for processing sensitive information, or an employer in industries that require high-tech security systems, may utilize biometrics as a means to protect the integrity of its equipment and data. However, there are privacy rights and anti-discrimination laws that may prohibit the use of biometric processes.

Function of Biometrics in the Workplace

The term "biometrics" refers to physiological and behavioral identifiers unique to human beings. When an employer utilizes biometrics for securing the workplace, it is typically due to controlling access to sensitive data or limiting access to company property. Some industries use biometrics to create access points or keycards and identification methods for allowing authorized personnel to enter the workplace or certain work areas. On the surface, biometrics may seem like a harmless human resources practice for added workplace security.

Features of Biometrics

The authors of "A Survey of Biometric Recognition Methods" explain the primary features of biometrics: "Any human physiological or behavioral trait can serve as a biometric characteristic as long as it satisfies the following requirements: 1) Universality. Everyone should have it; 2) Distinctiveness. No two should be the same; 3) Permanence. It should be invariant over a given period of time; 4) Collectability."

Each one of these characteristics can be applied to the workplace. Universality permits access only to authorized personnel. Distinctiveness eliminates potentially confusing duplication of identification. Permanence can ensure data and premises are accessible only to the person who possesses a unique set of characteristics. Collectability suggests the secured maintenance of biometric records, such as a human resources information system.

Potential for Invasion of Privacy

Critics of the use of biometrics in the workplace may focus on one of the physiological characteristics used for constructing identification or other uses of biometrics. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 specifically prohibits the use of genetic data, including DNA, in making employment-related decisions. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces GINA violations. In its technical guidance materials, the federal agency addresses the potential for discriminatory employment practices based on characteristics necessary for biometrics use in the workplace.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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