The future of employment law?

Wednesday 19th February 2020

Could workplace data hold the key to future employment litigation? There is no doubt that there is a growing pool of data available to employers about their workforce which may have an increasingly significant role to play in employment law disputes in the digital age.

The fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things. Whatever buzzword you choose to use, it’s clear that technology is changing the way we live, work and relate to each other.

From personal speakers that can turn lights on, to wearable technology that feeds health and fitness data directly to medical professionals; more than 500 billion devices are expected to be connected to the Internet by 2030, according to Cisco, each with sensors that collect data, interact with the environment, and communicate over a network.

In the workplace, these devices are driving a wide range of benefits. Whether in the factory, in an office or in the field, smart connected devices can increase productivity, facilitate leaner working practices and improve efficiency. The key is in ‘big data’; giving organisations greater visibility of their people, performance, assets and locations. But is there another benefit?

This shift towards smart devices and data-led processes has, in turn, given employers access to a huge pool of information about their employees. In many cases, information which was not previously available. GPS data on company-owned vehicles, mobile phone and email data, smart system log-ins and entry systems, even health checks through wearable technology are now available to employers with the click of a button.

In the United States there is a growing trend to use this data to establish liability in employment law cases. By checking the information availability to them, employers (or more specifically their employment law firms) can build a picture of an employee’s day – what time did they clock in, how long did it then take to turn on their laptop, did they stop for a lunch break etc – and assess whether workers have grounds for dispute or not.

It is a safe assumption that this kind of data-intensive employment law, based on huge data sets, will soon be commonplace in the UK too – particularly as we continue to see increasingly complex employment law cases.

How can employers embrace this shift? For many, the technologies are already in place; this is not about keeping up with technology, it’s more about adapting policies and procedures to make sure they incorporate the advancements being made across entire industries.

Employers should ensure all data sources are listed in company policy handbooks, and that they are clear about how data could be used.

However, there is also an opportunity to think creatively about how to use data to protect the organisation from the threat of employment litigation. Look back at any previous disputes and ask yourself if today’s technology might have made a difference, with the data it makes available. It might just be the difference in a successful defence.

For further information or advice on the future of employment law, please contact Mary.