Best Practices for the Ethical Use of Nanosensors in Employee Surveillance

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The authors explain 5 best practices to encourage nano-enabled worker monitoring programs that are acceptable, effective, and ethical.

The powerful monitoring capacity that nanotechnology lends to the practice of employee surveillance can benefit both employers and employees but only when a company is transparent about their motivations for offering these devices and these motivations are acceptable to employees, according to an article published in the AMA Journal of Ethics.

Nano-enabled employee monitoring programs can monitor the activity, productivity, health, and wellness of workers in a mutually beneficial fashion that is acceptable, effective, and ethical, provided that companies use the 5 best practices described in this article.

First, participation in the monitoring program must be voluntary and not mandatory. Mandatory participation is likely to engender resentment among employees that will undermine the program’s success.

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Second, the use of the data collected by nanosensors must be transparent to ensure the employees’ trust and cooperation. Identified, individual data must not be given to third parties without an employee’s consent, and employees must be given free access to their data and corresponding analyses.

Third, companies should only offer validated mobile health products using nano-enabled technology (eg, wearables, implants, and tattoos), as inaccurate data is at best ineffective and could easily be harmful if it leads to incorrect conclusions.

Fourth, the collection of data must be limited to the workplace, as data collected outside of working hours is less relevant to productivity and performance in the workplace; however, employees should have access to use such data for their own wellness and self-improvement.

Fifth, secure storage is paramount. If data were to be hacked and stolen in a cyberattack, worker confidence in the nanosensor program would be greatly undermined. To protect data, both employee sensors and the data storage location must have the best possible cybersecurity protection in place, and companies should only keep data collected for as long as is needed, with data stored for longer periods of time permanently deidentified.

Researchers concluded that using nanosensors for employee surveillance “could provide significant benefits to both workers and their employers, creating a win-win scenario by improving worker health, wellness, and productivity. However, to be successful and sustainable, such monitoring programs must be voluntary and acceptable to workers. Employers therefore share a common interest with their workers in ensuring that workplace surveillance programs are conducted in a fair, transparent, and ethical manner.”


Marchant GE. What are best practices for ethical use of nanosensors for worker surveillance? AMA J Ethics. 2019;21(4):E356-E362.

This article originally appeared on Medical Bag