As someone who wears a Fitbit, religiously checks-in to locations with Swarm/Foursquare, and posts every book I’ve read online with Goodreads, it might seem strange that I also regularly write about the growing concern over employee data privacy.

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The caveat is that for the applications and devices I listed above I can decide to stop letting those companies gather data on me simply by “opting out” of using them. But it isn’t as black and white as “opting in” or “opting out” in the workplace, where your options are limited regarding how much data you share with your employer.

In Brandon Hall Group’s 2016 HCM Measurement and Analytics Study, the top three concerns regarding data were:

  • Data Security 40%
  • Employee privacy 16%
  • Dehumanization of the workforce 13%

The recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (one level below the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals) in the case of EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc., has elements that touch on all of these concerns.

In a nutshell, the case focused on whether participation in wellness programs at companies could be used to determine participation in that company’s healthcare program. Or put more simply, can companies force you to take biometric screening in order for you to get health insurance? And according to this latest ruling (Dec. 31, 2015), the answer is yes. This is obviously very good news for companies that provide wellness products, such as the aforementioned Fitbit, although I am sure that many of them would prefer that organizational wellness programs be more carrot and less stick.

Still, this ruling speaks to the greater amount of data on employees that is available. Already the amount of data that can be collected on employees is so staggering that many practitioners are struggling to determine how to store it and classify it, much less use it in meaningful analyses. Add to that mountain of data very personal information about an employee’s personal health and habits and you can see the security and privacy concerns welling up in real-world scenarios.

In the short-term, the EEOC is likely to appeal this decision to the 7th Circuit, and laws regarding non-discrimination (anything covered under HIPAA) still take precedence over this ruling. But these issues won’t go away and the case should be a very strong motivator to make sure your organization’s employee data follows proper data governance guidelines, and that you have the necessary infrastructure (both systems and personnel) to handle new streams of employee data in safe, secure ways. Because while it’s each person’s choice what data to share in their personal lives, personal choice is becoming more complicated at work.

Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group