WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY? Workers’ wearable technology will create new headaches for business

Over the next few years, we’ll see the very rapid adoption of wearable technology – smartwatches, Google Glass, and other miniaturized connectivity devices. 

It’s not hard to imagine how employees carrying and using such devices could create problems for businesses.  Think of a service employee whose smartwatch displays inappropriate text messages or images, an accounting worker whose Google glasses capture salary data and automatically uploads it to social media, or a home health aide whose smart bracelet updates the world on her location – even though the home addresses of her clients are supposed to be confidential. How should a business owner deal with these issues?

It’s not too soon for business owners to think about updating cellphone, social media and other policies to take these new devices into account.  For example, cell phone policies that ban phone use in certain times and places could be adjusted to apply to devices that place calls or send messages without the physical use of a phone. Appearance policies could be extended to cover wearable devices that make noise, light up or display data.

Policies providing that employees have no “right to privacy” when using the company’s Internet connection could clarify that this applies as well to wearable devices. Driving policies that prohibit cell phone use could now apply to other communication methods.

It could also be a good idea to clarify that employees do not have the right to secretly record communications or secretly take photos or videos at work. (You’ll need to be very careful with this one, however, because federal labor law does allow workers to document their working conditions for certain purposes, and a company policy cannot prohibit them from doing so.)  In California, we have a “two party” system, wherein anyone wishing to record conversations of another must obtain the consent of the other party to the communication, or if recording multiple parties, obtain the consent of each person participating in the communication.

Amendment or modification of the employee manual is a good place for a business owner to start when initiating policies designed to deal with “wearable technology.”  Thereafter, regular meetings and/or office memos reminding employees of amended or modified policies are a good way to ensure the new policies are observed.

BORROWER BEWARE!! Be careful about copyrighted images on websites and sales materials

Graphic designers often like to “borrow” photographs and other artwork in order to create websites, brochures, direct-mail solicitations and other materials. But a business must make sure it has a legal right to use images and designs in its marketing materials.

A company called Dream Communications found this out the hard way recently, when a designer used a photograph without permission in creating an online magazine about luxury homes in Hawaii. The owner of the image sued, claiming that it was entitled to almost $8,000 in licensing fees.  This was only the tip of the problematic iceberg for Dream Communications.  Its problems became nightmares when a court added penalties under the federal copyright law. In the end, Dream was ordered to pay the owner $45,000 in damages, plus almost $7,000 in attorney fees and costs.

There are a number of companies that license “stock art” for business use at a modest cost, as well as websites that offer some artwork for free. This is a safe place to START looking for images and logos, but should not be the end of the analysis.  Business must take every precaution to make sure they are not using images belonging to another company.