HR | Atlantic - Positive Change at Work

Biometrics Proportionate To Business Purposes

Feb 22, 2012

by Linda Gaudet

United Steelworkers, Local 8918 and Gerdau Ameristeel, (2011 C.L.A.S. 283)

In December 2010, a steel mill in Cambridge, Ontario l introduced a new biometric scan system to track employee attendance and work hours. The employer’s other mills already used this technology.  The Cambridge mill’s reliance on manual data was resulting in errors in pay, resulting disputes with employees, and unnecessary administration time.  The scan system introduced contained many protections against hacking, replication of the biometric data, and other risks to employee privacy. However, employees were not convinced and following the system’s introduction the union filed a policy grievance.

Earlier arbitration decisions on use of biometrics were divided on whether such employer innovations were an appropriate exercise of management rights under a collective agreement. The cases which found in favour of the employer did so based on the following criteria:

  • the employer’s demonstration of a compelling business case;
  • evidence that the collection of the requisite data was minimally intrusive; and
  • enhanced security features, both in the design and implementation of the technology, that were responsive to any potential concerns about employees’ privacy.

Arbitrator Susan Tacon found that the biometric system used by the employer met this criteria.  Further, there was no violation of the collective agreement; thus, the introduction of the scan system was a legitimate exercise of management rights.   Tacon  identified the “principle of proportionality” as the critical factor when balancing the employer’s right to manage its employees against the new technology’s potential intrusion on employees’ privacy rights. She noted that  the system was not physically intrusive, time consuming, or painful to use and that further improvements in security protection had been made in the scan system in contention as compared with those in use in the earlier cases.

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