Q: A few employees have grumbled that the hand or finger scanning used in our new biometric time clock system is an invasion of privacy, also fearing that the government will get their fingerprints. Another employee proclaimed that he has no intention of allowing his hand or any part of his body to be scanned, as that would violate his religious beliefs against being “marked” by a number. Is our effort to adopt modern technology futile?

A: Biometric technology is gaining traction for a variety of worksite purposes: time records, worksite security/access, and even quality control and tracking work in progress.

The invasion of privacy claim doesn’t hold up, though, and the fear that the government will be stockpiling workers’ fingerprints is totally unfounded.

Biometric scanning technology uses an image of the hand/fingerprint that is immediately converted into a mathematical algorithm, which is then stored and used as the basis for employee identification.

The stored data can’t be used to reverse engineer a fingerprint image.

In addition, there is no rational basis to fear that a private employer would share this numerical data with a government entity; the data is not of any discernible use or value to a third party.

An employee refusing to cooperate in the use of this method for timekeeping could be disciplined or fired for failure to provide required time records.

The religious objection, however, may carry a bit more weight.

One court case required an employer to accommodate an employee’s “sincerely” held religious beliefs and allow an alternate timekeeping method.

A more effective approach may lie in education and sound, transparent security policies and procedures.
You may, of course, question the sincerity of an employee’s beliefs, but unless the timing or inconsistency of his or her religious objection raises suspicions, that strategy may be an expensive exercise in futility.

You could also refuse to provide a religious accommodation by showing that it would pose an undue hardship—that it would be costly, compromise workplace safety, decrease workplace efficiency, infringe on the rights of other employees, or require other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work—but that also may be an expensive strategy with an uncertain outcome.

A more effective approach may lie in education; sound, transparent security policies and procedures; and a healthy dose of flexibility.

Confrontation and/or litigation over rigid systems, without fair consideration of legitimate employee concerns may lead to big legal bills, win or lose, and the possible introduction of restrictive legislation.

Connecticut has thus far avoided legislative proposals or enactments that would restrict use of biometric technology that can bring greater security and efficiencies to your workplace.

HR problems? Email or call Mark Soycher at the HR Hotline (860.244.1900 | @HRHotline)