Swedish Company Tests Employee Microchips — But Will It Prevent Buddy Punching?
In the very first episode of “Futurama” (an American animated sitcom), pizza delivery boy Philip J. Fry (a.k.a. “Fry”) accidentally falls into a cryogenic freezer — only to wake up 1,000 years later, on December 31, 2999.
Within minutes of defrosting, Fry is taken to his “fate assignment officer,” a purple-haired cyclops named Leela. Just as Fry begins to think he’s been given a second chance at life, a chance to be more than a pizza delivery boy, a computer generates his permanent career assignment: delivery boy. Womp womp.
If Fry refuses to take the job, he’ll be fired, Leela warns, “out of a cannon, into the sun.” But accepting the job means having a career chip permanently implanted in his hand — a mandatory procedure for every person (and alien) in New New York.
Fry flees at the sight of the implanting device (and the thought of being forever trapped in a dead-end delivery job), and seven seasons of science fiction sitcom antics ensue. And while there are a lot of unrealistic situations in that episode …
… the career chip isn’t one of them.
According to a report from The Washington Post, a Swedish digital hub known as Epicenter, home to more than 300 startup companies and innovation labs, recently made a microchip implant available to its nearly 2,000 workers.
The chip, approximately the size of a grain of rice, is implanted into workers’ arms, allowing them to open doors, operate office equipment, “and even buy smoothies with a wave of their hand.”
For now (and the foreseeable future), the chip experiment is entirely voluntary — and while some employees cringed at the very thought of it, 75 of the 2,000 people who work for organizations housed at Epicenter elected to get the implant.
While the report doesn’t specify if chips can be removed, the chip (as it exists today) does not allow for any type of employee monitoring. “If a person is worried about being traced,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter, “your Internet search history poses a bigger threat than the RFID chip we use.”
But that’s not to say that the chips of the future won’t have those capabilities — opening the door (in some cases, literally) to an onslaught of ethical and privacy issues for employees and employers alike.
“Conceptually, you could get data about your health,” said Ben Libberton, a microbiologist in Stockholm, “you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet breaks and things like that.”
In other words, an implanted career chip could serve as an extreme solution for problems like buddy punching in the not-so-distant future. After all, 16 percent of employees who submit timesheets admit to buddy punching. And it’s costing U.S. business owners more than $373 million each year.
Unsurprisingly, many business owners have already gone to extreme lengths to combat it by investing in expensive and unreliable geofences or biometric time clocks. And C.R. Wright, partner with employment law firm Fisher Phillips in Atlanta, believes that a human application of biometric tags (in other words, “career chips”) isn’t too much of a leap. “I would think it will be tried here,” he said, and he expects to see it happen within the next five years.
Fortunately, for employees and employers alike, there is an easier, cheaper, and much less creepy way to prevent buddy punching in the workplace — and we’ve got the inside scoop.