Commission rules Australian worker unfairly dismissed for refusing to use biometric system

Commission rules Australian worker unfairly dismissed for refusing to use biometric system

Australia’s Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ruled that a worker fired for refusing to use a biometric time and attendance system was unfairly dismissed, putting the legal status of such systems in doubt, SmartCompany reports.

Superior Wood of Queensland fired Jeremy Lee for refusing to use the system, after he informed them in writing of his decision and reasons for it. He lost his unfair dismissal case in late 2018, though the FCW acknowledged in the ruling that the company’s attempt to obtain consent may have breached the Privacy Act. On review, the bench ruled that the legality of firing a worker for refusing to provide biometric data was an open question, and agreed to hear an appeal.

The FCW has now ruled that because fingerprints are sensitive information under the Privacy Act, employers cannot compel employees to provide them. The new ruling found the implementation of the biometric system “administratively convenient,” not “reasonably necessary,” as had originally been found.

Workplace Law Principal and Director Athena Koelmeyer told SmartCompany that employers should consider alternatives to biometric systems for payroll and other administrative functions, and make sure there is a choice available for employees.

“There’s a lot of magic in the word reasonable … and this is a very good example of how the word reasonable means different things to different people,” Koelmeyer explains.

Employment lawyer Peter Vitale, however, compared biometric employee systems to medical checks, which he says the FCW has repeatedly held can be lawfully required by employers.

Numerous lawsuits relating to biometric time-and-attendance systems have been brought against employers in Illinois under the state’s restrictive Biometric Information Privacy Act.

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