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Business Sense: Automated Worker Surveillance Tools – Inclusive Employers Exercise Caution

February 14, 2023
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)

Today’s employers may be familiar with the growing popularity of automated worker surveillance technologies. Such tools monitor and rank how employees move and behave on the job and can help inform decisions about task management, advancement and even termination. However, surveillance tools can also create barriers for some workers, including disabled employees.

From keylogging trackers to monitoring of web browsing history, surveillance tools can show businesses when a worker is active, how many emails they send, and even what their keystrokes or facial expressions may reveal. Employers can also monitor workers by tracking participation in workplace wellness programs. However, employers who use these tools should be mindful of the red flags and risks of discrimination.

For instance, people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to the harms of automated surveillance, which can worsen systemic barriers they already face in the workplace. In fact, when it comes to automated decision-making, research shows that data science predictions are often completely wrong for highly diverse groups such as disabled people.

A new toolkit from the ODEP-funded Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) explores these issues and offers employers a more complete picture of the risks of automated worker surveillance tools. Offering general background on tools and trends—including in the context of increased remote work—the toolkit explains how surveillance technologies can lead to discriminatory practices. It also examines federal and state efforts to address these issues.

A key takeaway is that employers should exercise strong caution when considering whether and how to use automated surveillance tools. They should develop best practices that limit surveillance through intentional centralized governance procedures that prioritize inclusion for people with disabilities. 

To learn more and explore PEAT’s toolkit, visit Automated Surveillance Can Create Barriers for Workers with Disabilities.

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