Worker wins landmark case vs biometric data policy

He was fired for refusing to give employer his fingerprints

Worker wins landmark case vs biometric data policy

A man from Queensland has won a landmark case against his former employer who fired him for his refusal to submit to a fingerprint scanning security system at work.

Jeremy Lee, who was terminated from his job at lumber company Superior Wood in early 2018, argued he had ownership of his biometric data. Following the provisions of Australia’s Privacy Act, he claimed his employer had no right to collect the data without his consent.

Lee appealed his case before the Fair Work Commission, which initially ruled in favour of the company. At the time, the commissioner handling the complaint found the company’s biometric policy to be reasonable when it required employees to submit to the new protocol.

The landmark case, however, highlighted the possibility of employee data being sold to and misused by malicious third parties.

Earlier this month, the FWC reversed its decision and stated the complainant was within his rights when he refused to undergo fingerprint scanning.

“We accept Mr. Lee’s submission that once biometric information is digitised, it may be very difficult to contain its use by third parties, including for commercial purposes,” the FWC said.

Speaking to ABC Radio National, the complainant said: “If someone else has control of my biometric data they can use it for their own purposes – purposes that benefit them, not me. That is a misuse.”

Biometric data collection: What HR leaders need to know
The rules regarding the collection of employees’ biometric data are changing rapidly, so employers must tread carefully when planning and implementing workplace policies around these tools, said Joe Murphy, managing director at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors.

How can HR leaders convince employees to opt in? It’s a matter of building trust and remaining transparent, he said.

“Building trust and proceeding reasonably are critical when an employer is exercising its rights to collect information,” Murphy wrote in this HRD article on how to navigate biometrics policies.

“If you have a workplace culture built on communication and trust that properly informs employees when, why and how you collect their personal data, you should experience minimal resistance.”

“Review your methods of collection, the purpose of the data and the security measures adopted. Bring in relevant departments that have a role in protecting the privacy of employees,” he said.

“If in doubt, get professional advice on whether your current processes are best practice and would stand up in court if challenged.”

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