Since Covid-19 first arrived in the North America it’s been a struggle for Americans to surrender their selfish ways and their “freedoms as U.S. citizens.” Simple acts such as staying out of bars and wearing a mask in public to protect our most vulnerable has sent the (mostly) right-wing, freedom-loving, gun-toting, bunker-building individuals into daily convulsive fits. However, the overarching freedom of the right to privacy remains largely off everyone’s radar.
To combat this threat we are subject to “health questionnaires” if we want to go in the office, go to a health facility, or even go out to eat. Prior to Covid-19 you had an expectation of privacy when it came to health issues and your employer. Sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” arrangement. This provided a safe haven and helped to prevent discrimination based on perceived or actual disabilities.
Add in the fact that your employer must now notify your co-workers should you test positive, it is easy to see how we are into a grey area legally. How do we balance the rights of the individual with the greater good? In this unprecedented time, how do we make sure that in our rush to fight this disease we follow the law and use sound ethical principles?
One area of concern, that could raise employee rights’ issues in the near future, is students who are returning to college campuses across the country this fall. Students are often in close proximity to each other in classrooms, dorms, school sanctioned sports, and bars. Venues that could take on super-spreader status at a drop of the aerosol from one pretty little coed’s cough.
In response, Universities are considering or already requiring the use of “BioButtons” in residence halls. The “Button” is a wearable device that monitors your vitals, including temperature and heart-rate, in real time. It’s worn on your chest, last for approximately 90-days and connects to your mobile device. The button will be used in conjunction with the daily health assessment to determine if “you are able to participate in campus activities” according to Michigan based Oakland University’s website.
Students at Oakland have started a petition to stop the use of these trackers. They have already gathered 2000 signatures. But what happens if/when your employer decides to institute these trackers? It’s a thin line between these health monitors and the cost saving measures like the employee trackers Amazon already uses.
Thanks to the erosion of Unions over the past forty years, most workers in the U.S. no longer enjoy the hard fought contract protections that union jobs provided. Employee/Employer relationships are considered “at-will” meaning that you can leave for any reason and be let go for any reason.
So if your employer wants to fire you for taking too much time off after contracting Covid-19, or you’re too fat or out of shape, you will be hard pressed bringing a successful wrongful termination suit against them.
The days of government issued trackers are here and our right to privacy is in question. Right now they may be seen as a safety measure for students, but they can also be seen as a infringement on their rights. The question is, do we stop the party before it gets started or do we put aside our freedoms for our health and hope the monitors never goes further.