In a landmark decision delivered yesterday (March 15, 2017), the Israeli National Court of Labor ruled that employers may not compel workers to use biometric time clocks at the workplace. The National Labor Court's holding overturned the regional labor court’s decision from 2014, on a collective labor dispute against the Qalansuwa municipality. The municipality had sought to compel its employees to use a biometric time clock system in order to monitor their work attendance.
The National Labor Court held that “forcing workers to hand over their fingerprints for biometric time clock purposes by threatening to deny wages from employees that refuse to do so, is an unlawful violation of the workers’ right to privacy and autonomy”. The court added that such employer conduct breaches the elevated duties of good-faith and fairness that employers are obligated to exercise towards their employees.
The court explained that “fingerprints are biometric samples and as such encompass unique physiological information which serves as a key to access considerable personal data.” The court noted that the mere sampling of fingerprints infringes a person’s privacy and autonomy, as is the additional violation of those rights arising from the risks of misuse or unauthorized use for purposes beyond those originally intended. The court expounded that “the inherently unique nature of biometric data coupled with the loss of control over it is precisely what gives rise to a violation of a person's privacy and autonomy rights”.
The court concluded that absent a statute expressly permitting employers to compel employees to use biometric time clocks, employers may not require employees to give fingerprints, or any other biometric information, without their freely given consent.
The National Labor Court's opinion effectively adopted the main arguments brought up by the Israeli Attorney-General in the brief that he submitted to the court in this case.