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Democrat urges Labor Dept. to regulate tech that monitors employees in the workplace

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, is urging the Department of Labor to monitor and regulate how companies are using invasive technology to monitor their employees during work hours. 

In a letter addressed to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Casey called for the agency to push for more oversight, accountability and transparency on how these surveillance technologies are being used in the workplace and how they are impacting workers’ privacy.

“The implementation of novel technologies to track, monitor, manage and discipline workers is growing due to an imbalance of power in the workplace and a lack of legal protections or regulatory restrictions on these behaviors,” Casey said in the letter.

“Without oversight, more and more intrusive technologies will be implemented in the workplace,” he added. 

Casey listed examples of how employees are constantly monitored and sometimes punished or fired for low productivity scores that are based on algorithms and automated systems which have “little or no meaningful human oversight.”

For instance, he cited some Amazon workers who are penalized for taking breaks to go to the bathroom or to pump breast milk. 

In late July, a female Amazon employee sued the tech giant for allegedly failing to provide reasonable breaks and appropriate rooms for workers to pump breast milk, Reuters reported.  

The senator also mentioned how some companies are using technology to monitor and preempt employees’ right to organize, or use bots to fire workers over email.

“Workers disciplined or terminated by these systems are often left with few options to dispute these decisions or engage with a human manager to understand how these decisions were made,” Casey said.

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it was looking at ways to crack down on harmful commercial surveillance and lax data security. 

“Firms now collect personal data on individuals at a massive scale and in a stunning array of contexts,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan in a statement. 

Casey added that the Labor Department should follow suit to address surveillance in the workplace.

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