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HRE’s Number of the Day: Contact-tracing tools

Some employees are concerned about new workplace safety measures.
By: | May 22, 2020 • 2 min read


31%: Percentage of employees who report being “very concerned” about COVID-19-related tracking tools, like apps and wearable devices.

As employers around the country gradually bring employees back to worksites in the coming months, safety will be a top priority. But, according to a recent survey, some employees are worried about sacrificing their security for the sake of safety.

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PwC surveyed more than 1,100 American workers earlier this month about their forecasts for returning to their workplaces. Among the findings, 31% said they’re “very concerned” about tracing tools—both apps on their phones and wearable devices—that track their location and proximity to people who have been infected. Workers were slightly less concerned (less than 25%) about employers requiring COVID-19 testing, antibody testing, workplace cameras and other safety measures. Men and those with children under 18, along with workers in the northeastern part of the nation, reported the highest levels of concerns about monitoring.

What it means to HR leaders

Despite those concerns, workers expect their employers to keep them safe. Fifty-six percent said their employer should provide PPE, and more than half expect to be notified if a co-worker tests positive, believe customers should follow safety and hygiene practices and want to receive assurances about cleaning procedures.

Bhushan Sethi, PwC’s joint global people and organization leader, notes that, in talking to PwC clients, most are relatively optimistic about creating safe worksites, though they are challenged to do so in the least invasive way—all while minimizing privacy issues.

That’s where contact-tracing tools can be effective, Sethi says.

“By tracing movement throughout the office, companies can alert employees when they have been in contact with an infected co-worker so they can quickly address potential spread of the virus,” he says. “Privacy should be at the core of the technology, and the data should be anonymized and available only to the key group of authorized decision-makers whose role is to alert other employees.”

Importantly, it’s not necessary to reveal the identity of any individual who has tested positive, Sethi notes.

Interest in tracing tools is on the rise: Nearly one-third of CFOs surveyed earlier this month by PwC planned to use them in their return strategies. PwC recently launched its own contact-tracing tool—Automatic Contact Tracing—that will be deployed across its offices when they reopen, as well as available to clients.

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Employers that do pursue contact tracing should be cognizant of employer concerns and be transparent about safety measures, and their value, Sethi says.

“Many companies are weighing the pros and cons of instituting tracing tools, but this is the time for companies to over-communicate all their safety procedures—including PPE, physical distancing, tracing—to alleviate fear and misunderstanding with facts,” he says.

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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