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Australian worker refusing to use biometric time and attendance loses unfair dismissal claim

Australian worker refusing to use biometric time and attendance loses unfair dismissal claim

A bid by an Australian sawmill worker to have his job restored after he was fired for refusing to participate in a new fingerprint scanning policy at his employer has been rejected by the Fair Work Commission, The Guardian reports.

Superior Woods of Queensland instituted a biometric time and attendance system for its 150 workers at two job sights to prevent workers from swiping the cards they had previously used on behalf of absent colleagues. The company had no privacy policy for staff and failed to comply with a government requirement to notify them about the collection and use of their personal data, according to the Guardian. Jeremey Lee argued that his consent was never sought, and that he feared his biometric data, which was stored on servers in a leased third-party space, could be accessed by unknown parties.

Lee had reportedly not missed work in more than three years, and informed the company in writing of his refusal to enroll his fingerprints and his reasons why. Superior Woods warned him repeatedly that it would not accept his position, and told him that the scan records a set of measurements, rather than a fingerprint, and that it could not be reverse engineered. He was fired in February, and filed an unfair dismissal claim.

“While there may have been a breach of the Privacy Act relevant to the notice given to employees, the private and sensitive information was not collected and would never be collected relevant to Mr Lee because of his steadfast refusal,” the commission wrote in its ruling, per The Guardian. “The policy itself is not unlawful, simply the manner in which the employer went about trying to obtain consent may have constituted a breach of the Privacy Act.”

Lee told the Guardian Australia that he plans to appeal the ruling. “My biometric data is inherently mine and inseparable from me. My employer can’t demand it or sack me for refusing to give it,” he says. “It’s not about this particular employer. Ownership to me means that I can refuse consent without being sacked.”

Alleged notification and consent violations by employers implementing time and attendance systems are behind numerous lawsuits in the U.S. under Illinois’ state law.

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