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Fitbit this week launched Ready for Work, an enterprise health-tracking platform that monitors employee health in an effort to facilitate a safe return to offices amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ready for Work is intended to gather employee health data such as body temperature, exposure to sick individuals, self-reported symptoms, and heart rate.
These are collected both by employees self-reporting health information through an app, and by Fitbit devices worn by employees, which are capable of measuring an individual’s quality of sleep, distance traveled, and heart rate. Fitbit analyzes reported data to recommend whether or not employees should come to work on a given day — it also relays health data to employers in the form of a workforce health-monitoring dashboard.
Fitbit’s product and others like it are positioned to limit employers’ exposure to potential lawsuits over workplace safety. More than 115,000 people in the US have died of the coronavirus as of June 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Office shutdowns were intended to curb the spread of the virus, but many businesses that were deemed essential have remained in operation, albeit with additional safety measures. Fitbit gives employers a more proactive safety tool to protect them against lawsuits that could be brought on grounds that they insufficiently protected worker health and safety during the pandemic.
Amazon workers, for instance, filed in June a lawsuit against the company claiming that the e-commerce giant did not adequately track and attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus in its warehouses. Just this week, Amazon launched an AI “distance assistance” tool that warns warehouse employees when they come within 6 feet of one another. Platforms like Fitbit’s Return to Work — along with similar products offering from PwC and Salesforce — will likely be appealing to smaller businesses that, unlike Amazon, don’t have the resources to develop an in-house employee health-monitoring solution.
Workplace monitoring tools — though they can promote health and safety compliance — risk alienating employees given their potential applications for surveillance. Corporations have attempted to track employee health in a bid to boost productivity for more than a century.
In 1915, for instance, Ford monitored whether employees were adhering to extensive health guidelines such as “bathe often” and “always sleep with your windows open, summer and winter.” Modern technology extends corporations’ monitoring capabilities, and has already been used to fuel the “what gets measured gets managed” mantra that shapes the modern corporate landscape (consider the use of KPIs to measure the performance of a salesperson, or Amazon’s use of wristbands to track the pace at which warehouse workers complete tasks).
While health-tracking technologies such as Fitbit’s Ready to Work offer an expedient tool to facilitate a safer return to offices, they also raise concerns over an employee’s right to privacy in the workplace. These concerns will likely temper the use of such platforms in corporate office spaces where employees tend to have more leverage in shaping office conditions, but the technology will likely proliferate in factories and warehouses, where productivity monitoring tools are often already being used.
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