Biometric Timekeeping: Weigh Benefits Against Privacy Considerations

Wilber_barbara_rgbAre there any California laws or regulations that would prohibit using a biometric timekeeping system that uses a thumb print?

There are definitely issues to consider, but as yet California and federal laws have not specifically addressed the different uses of biometric technology.

The science of biometrics makes it possible to identify a person, not only by fingerprints, but by full hand identification, iris, voice, and face identification.

With the development of time clocks that take these measurements, employers have the ability to more closely monitor and secure their property and to obtain accurate time records. This method also reduces the submission of false time records.

Inevitably, questions arise about employee rights and privacy.

California is one of seven states that provides a constitutional right to privacy. In addition, Article 1, Section 1 of the California Constitution provides that: “All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness and privacy.”

Labor Code Section 1051 requires that fingerprints may be kept only for the employer’s own use.

Weigh the benefits of a biometric system against the necessity to develop privacy policies. Further, employees may be reluctant to be measured and identified. Religious discrimination was an issue in at least one case where an employee objected to hand identification.

Before implementing a new system, develop a clear policy, communicate with employees, explain the system, and give them an avenue to submit questions and to opt out on religious or other grounds.

Consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance and to remain up to date on any changes in the laws.

The Labor Law Helpline is a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at

Staff Contact: Barbara Wilber