With the Arkansas State Legislature’s 92nd General Assembly in full swing, one of the more noteworthy bills introduced has been House Bill 1177. Introduced by lead sponsor Representative Stephen Meeks, HB 1177 addresses the microchip implantation of employees. In an ever-evolving world fueled by technology, microchip implantation of employees has become a way to assist employers in making their workplace more efficient, productive, and secure.
Microchipping started out as a tool for projects focused on health uses like heart-rate or blood-sugar monitoring. A Fortune magazine article reports that more than 4,000 people in Sweden and other parts of Europe have been “chipped” by a small Swedish startup—Biohax International. See Fortune, Is ‘Biochipping’ a Good Idea, http://fortune.com/longform/biochipping-biohax-microchip/. A report by MarketsandMarkets Research in India estimated that the global biochip market will be worth about $17.75 billion by 2020. See MarketsandMarket Research, Biochips Market Worth $17.75 Billion by 2020, https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/biochips.asp. Making its way overseas, Biohax teamed up with Three Square Market to bring microchipping into the United States’ workplaces. Employees from Three Square Market, a Wisconsin tech company, had small microchips the size of a grain of rice implanted between their thumb and index finger. According to MIT Technology Review, as of last August, around 80 of the company’s 250 employees had microchips. See MIT Technology Review, This Company Embeds Microchips in its Employees, and They Love It, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611884/this-company-embeds-microchips-in-its-employees-and-they-love-it/. The employees are able to enter the workplace, log onto their computers, and get snacks from the vending machine with the wave of a hand.
While HB 1177 dominated the local news cycle, the reporting also highlighted the fact that no Arkansas businesses currently use employee microchip implantation. As the chair of the legislature’s Technology Committee, however, Rep. Stephen Meeks wants to be proactive on this issue. He’s stated, “The idea here is to set the ground rules before the technology comes to our state to protect workers[.]” See Jessi Tenure, 2019 Session: Bill Would Regulate Microchipping Employees in Arkansas, KARK.com (Jan. 22, 2019, 5:47 PM), https://www.kark.com/news/local-news/2019-session-bill-would-regulate-microchipping-employees-in-arkansas/1708706584. There are currently no state laws regulating the implantation of microchips in the United States. HB 1177 addresses many of the concerns that people have expressed regarding microchip implantation. If enacted, the Act, among other things, would require employers to:
- gain written consent from employees before microchip implantation;
- have the microchip removed within 30 days of the employee’s request for removal at any time;
- pay all the costs associated with implanting and removing the microchip;
- pay all the medical costs incurred by the employee as a result of any bodily injury to the employee caused by the implantation of the microchip or the presence of the microchip in the employee’s body; and
- disclose to the employee the data that may be maintained on the microchip and how the data that is maintained on the microchip will be used by the employer.
Seemingly acknowledging the growing practice of surveillance in the workplace, the Act concludes by noting that it “does not prohibit an employer from using alternative non-invasive technology that is intended to track the movement of an employee.”
HB 1177 was referred to the Senate’s Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee after passing through the House with an 84 – 4 vote with 12 non-votes. Whether HB 1177 becomes law or not is still to be seen; however, existing Arkansas law arguably already addresses the subject of microchip implantation, as pointed out by Representative Nicole Clowney. According to Rep. Clowney, under current Arkansas law, employers cannot force employees to undergo medical procedures. Defined as technology that is designed to be surgically implanted in the body of an individual in HB 1177, microchip implantation could very well be considered a medical procedure. Indeed, a number of state and federal laws that restrict employers’ access to and use of employees’ medical information could already have the practical effect of preventing, or at least deterring, employers from requiring employees to participate in microchip implantation.
The efficiency and security benefits of microchipping are hard to ignore. Therefore, any employer considering jumping into the world of microchip implantation should approach it carefully. Obtaining consent from employees and being transparent about all aspects of the microchips’ use will help avoid potential legal issues.