Unemployment Time

Australian Companies Can Fire Workers Who Refuse Biometric Scans

Employees' fingerprints aren't protected under privacy laws.

11. 28. 18 by Kristin Houser
Adobe Stock/Victor Tangermann
Image by Adobe Stock/Victor Tangermann

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By all accounts, Australian sawmill worker Jeremy Lee was a model employee. He didn’t miss a single day of work in over three years, and his employer, Superior Wood, even recognized him for his good performance.

But when he refused to comply with Superior Wood’s new fingerprint scanning policy on the grounds that it was an invasion of his privacy, the company fired him — and according to the Australian government, it had every right to do so.

Comply or Say Goodbye

In October 2017, Superior Wood told its employees they would need to begin clocking in and out of work with a fingerprint scanner. This didn’t sit right with Lee, so he continued to use a physical log book to record his work hours.

The company confronted Lee about this refusal several times, warning that it could fire him if he didn’t comply with the new attendance policy. Lee continued to refuse, and the company fired him in February 2018.


In March, Lee filed an unfair dismissal claim with Australia’s Fair Work Commission, and earlier this month the commission issued its ruling on the claim: Superior Wood’s attendance policy is lawful, and the company had every right to fire Lee for refusing to comply with it.

Misplaced Trust

Lee plans to appeal the ruling. But for now, it seems that companies in Australia have the right to fire employees who refuse to comply with fingerprint scans. And this is no doubt troubling to anyone who shares Lee’s concerns about the collection of biometric data, which he explained to his employer via a letter sent in November 2017.

“All the largest technology companies — such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Telstra, Samsung — are in a race to access and store as much data on individuals as they can,” Lee wrote. “This info is then traded and exchanged. So if I were to consent to a fingerprint scan, my fingerprint would be scanned and stored for use immediately (regardless of assertions to the contrary), or it would be scanned and stored for use at a later time.”

We have seen plenty of examples of the tech industry’s hunger for user data, as well as its misuse of it. Lee’s concerns are understandable — they just weren’t enough to save his job.


READ MORE: Companies ‘Can Sack Workers for Refusing to Use Fingerprint Scanners’ [The Guardian]

More on data collection: It’s Official. Fossil Fuels Are No Longer the World’s Most Valuable Resource.

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