The Debate About Biometric Technology in the Workplace

By Katherine Muniz
December 21, 2015

As employers are increasingly turning to biometric devices to improve the efficiency and security of their time and attendance operations, legal questions and privacy concerns have surfaced, primarily concerning the safety of biometric use in the workplace.

What most people are not aware of is that the biometric data measured and recorded from employees cannot be replicated, stolen, or reverse-engineered to recreate personal information. However, security worries persist.

Here are the facts you need to know about the limitations of biometrics in the workplace:

What is Biometrics?

Biometrics refers to the measure of the unique physical characteristics that set each person apart from any other, such as fingerprints, irises, retinas, hand geometry, facial patterns, and voice patterns.

Biometrics has become more prevalent in the workplace due to their ability to effortlessly confirm an individual’s identity by using a unique physical attribute, singular to each employee.  Since a biometric token can’t be faked, guessed, or forgotten, it’s easy to see why this technology would be appealing. Popular uses of biometrics in the workplace include tracking hours worked and controlling access to secure rooms.

Since a biometric token can’t be faked, guessed, or forgotten, it’s easy to see why this technology would be appealing. Popular uses of biometrics in the workplace include tracking hours worked and controlling access to secure rooms.

How it works

Employees register their biometric data during a one-time supervised enrollment process. As each employee scans their data, the scanner encrypts and stores a mathematical representation of the fingerprint to create a biometric template that is used as a record to identify the employee in the future.

Biometric scanners never store any images of the biometric data that is registered. Instead, the scanner determines the characteristics of each worker’s data (such as the pattern of ridges and valleys) and creates a binary code that is impossible to duplicate, decrypt, or reconvert to an image.


Though biometrics are becoming more common in the workplace, misconceptions about biometrics still exist, particularly when it comes to fingerprinting. Many employees are averse to having their characteristics measured and recorded out of fear their data will be used elsewhere, such as for law enforcement or other government agencies.

However, the limits of biometric data are very clear – biometric identification data cannot possibly be used outside of work. As mentioned, no employee is ever truly fingerprinted. Their fingerprint is used to create an encrypted data representation that cannot be decrypted or reverted back into an employee’s fingerprint or facial image. Hence, the stored data would be useless outside the company.

Employer Lawfulness

When it comes to discussing the legality of biometric use in the workplace, employers must make the effort to communicate to their employees that they are not storing any retrievable information. Employers should work to supply employees with a general policy that states the limits of the biometric characteristics measured at work.

If certain employees object to using a biometric timekeeping system, they should be supplied with alternatives (in order to protect the company from legal action). Most biometric time clock suppliers also sell PINs and RFID cards that can be used to clock in instead.

Advantages vs. Traditional Methods

The advantage of biometric technology offer employers and employees are unparalleled. Switching to an automated biometric timekeeping system eliminates incidents of wage theft, potentially results in considerable savings, and reduces the time it takes to run payroll. Using a biometric timekeeping system also offers employers legal protection against labor and fair wage disputes, providing an indisputable record of employees’ time and attendance and wages.

In terms of employee benefits, employees no longer have to remember and manually record their hours, and because biometric timekeeping systems make payroll more efficient, employees can be paid sooner.

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