In recent years, the use of biometrics has become integral in our lives. Uses range from unlocking smartphones to accessing secured areas of buildings. Companies have also increasingly adopted biometric measurements to gain valuable insights about their employees’ health and design data-driven wellness programs to promote healthier lifestyles.
In this article, we take a deeper dive into what biometric measurements are and how they are used in wellness programs. Click on the sections below to jump right to your specific question:
- What are Biometric Measurements?
- What are Biometric Measurements Used For?
- What are 6 Common Biometric Measurements?
- Why Do Certain Employers Collect Biometric Measurements?
- Can Employers See Individual Employee Biometric Measurements?
- How are Biometric Measurements Used by Employers?
What are Biometric Measurements?
Biometric measurements are identifiers of physiological and behavioral characteristics that are unique to each person. Physiological identifiers relate to any unique physical aspect of an individual, while behavioral identifiers relate more to distinct patterns in the way they act. Because individuals are so diverse, yet consistent in some of these dimensions, biometrics can be useful for a variety of purposes.
What are Biometric Measurements Used For?
Some common uses for biometric measurements include:
Access control is a common use case for biometric measurements. Fingerprint recognition and facial scans are widely used as authentication methods to unlock individual smartphones, computers, or access to secured areas of buildings.
Biometric systems can be effective in verifying identity in situations such as passport control, voting, or financial transactions. Using biometric measurements makes it more difficult for individuals to impersonate someone else.
Biometric methods are also used to diagnose conditions like heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. These measurements can help doctors and employers identify health problems and develop treatment plans.
Sports performance analysis
An easy way to analyze an athlete’s performance in modern sports is by using a biometric system. For example, heart rate monitors and GPS trackers can track an athlete’s heart rate, speed, and distance covered during training and competition.
Time and attendance tracking
Manual logging is fading quickly for tracking time and attendance in workplaces. Fingerprint scanners or facial recognition systems have made it easier for employers to ensure that employees clock in and out accurately.
Biometric security is increasingly being used in border control to verify the identity of travelers in and out. For example, facial recognition technology can match a traveler’s face to their passport photo. The technology is also apt for airports.
Biometric information helps law enforcement agencies to identify suspects and solve crimes. Fingerprint authentication, DNA matching, and facial recognition technology are commonly used in criminal investigations and forensics.
Biometrics can also be used to prevent fraud across various industries. For example, banks and financial institutions can use biometric data to verify the identity of customers and reduce the risk of fraudulent transactions.
What are 6 Common Biometric Measurements?
Some of the most commonly used biometric measurements include:
This technology works by analyzing the distinct sounds in someone’s voice and creating a unique biometric sound pattern. When someone speaks, a voice recognition system compares it to the stored voice pattern for identification. Voice biometric technology is commonly used in call centers, banking, and other industries for personal identification and authentication. It is also used in personal assistants and smart home devices to allow users to control their devices using voice commands.
This technology records and analyzes the unique ridges, valleys, and minutiae (points where ridges and valleys meet or end) of a person’s fingertips to establish their identity. When someone places his fingers on the scanning screen, it compares it to a database of stored fingerprint patterns to determine if there is a match. This technology is used widely for several security applications, such as accessing secure areas, unlocking devices, and making payments. Fingerprint scanning is used in forensics, where fingerprint readers compare the two samples (new and recorded ones) to find if there is a breach.
Facial recognition biometric technology matches a human face to a video or an image saved in its database. It captures physical traits for 80 nodal points on a digital image of an individual’s face, and this data is stored as a faceprint. However, the system fails if the subject is not facing forward or is partially obscured.
Facial recognition systems use algorithms to analyze various features, for instance, the distance between the eyes, length & breadth of the nose, orbital depth, mouth, and the shape of the cheekbones, to create a unique faceprint for each individual. However, it comes with risks related to privacy, surveillance, and the possibility of being mishandled and misused. Some well-known applications include Face ID technology used by Apple’s iPhone X and Xs, biometric security in offices for marking the attendance of employees, and more.
This method verifies an individual’s identity by recording the iris patterns. Iris scanners use infrared light to look at the unique patterns in your eye while ignoring your eyelashes and eyelids. The patterns are then analyzed and converted into a digital template. These templates can be stored and compared to other templates for identification purposes. The use of iris recognition is often combined with other biometric identifiers, such as fingerprint recognition and facial recognition.
It is clear that DNA is unique to each individual, making it an extremely reliable biometric identifier. DNA matching works based on the analysis of DNA samples extracted from an individual. A digital genetic profile is created and compared to a database of stored DNA profiles to determine if there is a match. Discovered in 1984, DNA matching is not widely used due to privacy and ethical considerations. However, it has many strong use cases in law enforcement, forensic science, and medicine.
This next-generation technique is based on the unique patterns of palm prints and is similar to fingerprint recognition. It uses a specialized camera or scanner and analyzes distinct features such as ridges and creases on each person’s palm. It’s worthwhile to note that while a fingerprint has only 150 characteristics, a palm print has 1500. So the probability of verifying identity is much higher in the case of palm prints than it is with fingerprinting.
Why Do Certain Employers Collect Biometric Measurements?
Biometrics plays a useful role in the workplace.
Health and wellness tracking via wellness programs can benefit both employees and employers. It helps identify potential health problems before they become severe, and the employees can take action before they escalate.
This helps employers save money in the long run. When illnesses are prevented, it leads to lower healthcare claims costs, fewer accidents over time, safety, and improved workforce longevity. This means that employees and employers can reap the rewards of a healthier and more productive work environment by investing in early detection and prevention.
Fingerprints, facial recognition, or iris scans are unique to each individual. They can provide high security to enter control systems, data centers, and other secure areas. By requiring these biometric features, employers can reduce the risk of unauthorized access and prevent data breaches.
Time and Attendance Tracking
Employers can use biometrics to prevent time theft through “buddy punching” or discrepancies with different devices. Biometric systems record and verify every interaction with the clock-in machine, reducing confusion and increasing accuracy. This also enables employers to monitor attendance and track who is in the building at any given time, thereby enhancing safety and security measures.
Some employers collect biometric data to comply with regulatory requirements. For example, healthcare providers may use biometric measurements to ascertain that only authorized personnel can gain permission for sensitive patient information.
Efficiency in Payroll
Managing payroll can be a challenging task for employers. Biometric systems offer a solution by streamlining the process and reducing the chances of mistakes that can impact employees and employers. By directly transferring data from clock-in stations to payroll software, biometrics can enhance accuracy, minimize confusion, and save time for all parties involved.
Can Employers See Individual Employee Biometric Measurements?
Employers do have access to individual employee biometric measurements if they have implemented a biometric system in the workplace, and they can see it. However, they must comply with applicable privacy laws and regulations, which may limit the use, and sharing of sensitive data.
How are Biometric Measurements Used by Employers?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sets guidelines for corporate wellness programs and the collection of employee health information under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An employer is allowed to inquire about an employee’s health and conduct medical examinations if it is part of a voluntary workplace wellness program.
In turn, this means that employers do have access to individual employee biometric measurements if they implement a biometric system in the workplace, and they can see it. However, the latter’s biometric screening results are considered Protected Health Information (PHI) and are safeguarded by U.S. law. The employer must comply with applicable privacy laws and regulations, which may limit the use, and sharing of sensitive data.
According to HIPAA regulations, an employer must obtain an employee’s consent before requesting medical information from healthcare providers or clinics.
Laws for the use of biometric information by employers
According to the law, an employer must:
- Develop a public written policy with retention schedules and destruction guidelines for biometric information.
- Destroy the information within three years of the individual’s last interaction with the entity or upon satisfaction of the purpose for collecting the information, whichever occurs first.
- Inform individuals of the purpose and duration of the collection, storage, and use of biometric information, and obtain their consent before collecting or obtaining such data.
- Do not sell, lease, trade, or profit from an individual’s biometric information.
- Do not disclose or disseminate biometric information without the individual’s consent unless an exception applies.
- Store, transmit, and protect in accordance with industry-specific standards of care and at least as protective as other confidential and sensitive information.
- A private right of action is created under this law.
Note: The law exempts information governed by HIPAA, entities governed by GLBA, state and local government entities, and judicial entities. But these laws may also differ from state to state.
How do Employers use Biometric Measurements in Wellness Programs?
Employers use various measurements (already discussed above) that are unique to every employee and cannot be easily duplicated. Here are some examples of specific uses of biometric measurements in company wellness programs:
- Fitness tracking: Many employers provide fitness tracking devices or apps to monitor their employees’ physical activity, such as step counts or heart rate. This can be utilized to encourage employees to engage in more physical activity and lead a healthier lifestyle.
- Nutrition monitoring: Some employers may use biometric measurements to track employees’ nutrition habits, such as tracking their food intake or body fat percentage. This information is used to provide personalized nutrition advice and promote healthier eating habits. Mascaro’s wellness program with Leslie exemplifies how eating habits can change employees’ work and life.
- Stress monitoring: Biometric measurements such as heart rate variability can be used to monitor employees’ stress levels. This report is used to provide employees with resources and support to manage their stress and improve their mental health.
Biometric measurements are a valuable tool in workplace wellness programs, providing objective data on employee health and enabling tailored solutions to promote well-being. From tracking physical activity levels to monitoring vital signs and conducting health risk assessments, biometric data helps employers gain insights into the health of their workforce and take timely action to improve employee health and productivity. However, collecting and storing biometric data has its own share of challenges around privacy, security, and ethical considerations that must be addressed to ensure the trust and confidence of the employees.