After many weeks, there are signs that lockdown in the UK may be on the verge of being relaxed in the near future, at least to some extent. This will, no doubt, come as a relief to many employers, who are keen to help kick-start their businesses (and the wider economy) as soon as possible.
The question of how employees can safely return to the workplace must be considered, however. Technology may offer a number of solutions that can assist with this, such as thermal-imaging cameras, wearable technology and COVID-19 testing solutions, but it will be important to consider any potential privacy issues that such technologies may create, (as well as any other relevant legal issues, such as health and safety and employment law obligations).
Employers will need to ensure that any tech options that they utilise to assist with the return to the workplace are effective and accurate and also assess the extent to which such technologies involve the collection and use of personal data. Any processing of personal data should comply with the requirements of the GDPR and other applicable data protection legislation.
In particular, employers should consider the principles of lawfulness, fairness and transparency, including establishing appropriate legal bases for processing, (noting that obtaining valid employee consent in these circumstances is likely to be problematic due to the inherently unbalanced nature of the employer-employee relationship). Appropriate information regarding the collection and use of employees' personal information should also be provided to employees.
Employers should also ensure that they respect the principles of purpose limitation, data minimisation, storage limitation and security, integrity and confidentiality. Data protection impact assessments around the use of technologies that are deployed are also likely to be required to ensure that all relevant data protection risks have been considered.
As the nation carefully follows every word from Government for signs of a relaxation of, or perhaps rather ambitiously, an end to, lockdown, and with Boris Johnson confirming that the UK is now “past the peak”, employers are starting to consider what a return to the workplace might look like. In Europe and the USA, where restrictions are already easing, the use of tech is proving to be one of many important tools to facilitate a safe return to the workplace.