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How Surveillance Tools Risk Discrimination

People with disabilities and chronic health conditions are less likely to be employed due to systemic barriers, including workplace discrimination. They are also particularly vulnerable to the harms of automated surveillance, which can exacerbate barriers. When it comes to automated decision-making, research shows that data science predictions are often completely wrong for outlier groups like people with disabilities.

Harmful impacts of workplace surveillance tools on employees with disabilities can include:

  • Unfair/Inaccurate Assessments – Excessive productivity tracking can disadvantage workers with disabilities who are performing their jobs effectively, especially those who rely on accommodations in the workplace. For example, surveillance tools that track keyboard activity could penalize employees who use dictation software instead of typing on the keys. This surveillance could provide managers with inaccurate assessments of employee performance. It could even result in unfair or inaccurate comparisons between employees who have different ways of completing tasks, such as employees who use accommodations to perform their jobs effectively.
  • Increased Inequalities – Research shows that health surveillance is creating and exacerbating workplace inequalities for post-treatment cancer survivors.
  • Heightened Stress – The feeling of constant surveillance can heighten stress and anxiety for people with mental health conditions. Surveillance can have an adverse effect on employees if they become more worried about meeting unrealistic metrics than delivering quality work.
  • Harmful Environments – Some employees with disabilities report that they do not have time to go to the bathroom, take rest breaks, or move at a reasonable pace when trying to meet arbitrary standards, making them more susceptible to injury and illness.
  • Lack of Transparency – Workers often do not receive plain language explanations about the metrics used to assess their performance. They may not understand how the employer used their data, making it difficult to appeal an assessment.
  • Loss of Privacy for Hybrid Workers – Often, remote and hybrid workers are still monitored even when they are engaged in non-work related activities. This practice can unfairly target workers with disabilities who may choose to work remotely because they find it more accessible than going to physical workplaces.
  • Risk of DiscriminationWorkers with disabilities may experience discrimination in the workplace, which may manifest as resistance to accessing reasonable accommodations necessary to perform their jobs. Surveillance tools could increase the risk of unlawful discrimination. For example, a tool that tracks eye movements can lead to adverse employment consequences for employees who use screen reader accommodations instead of looking at their device. This risk of discrimination can also lead to instances of retaliation when workers with disabilities try to assert their rights by engaging in protected EEO activity.
Continue to Federal and State Efforts to Address Surveillance Issues