From the Pinkerton private detectives of the 1850s, to the closed-circuit cameras and email monitoring of the 1990s, to contemporary apps that quantify the productivity of workers, American employers have increasingly sought to track the activities of their employees. Along with economic and technological limits, the law has always been presumed as a constraint on these surveillance activities. Recently, technological advancements in several fields – data analytics, communications capture, mobile device design, DNA testing, and biometrics – have dramatically expanded capacities for worker surveillance both on and off the job. At the same time, the cost of many forms of surveillance has dropped significantly, while new technologies make the surveillance of workers even more convenient and accessible. This leaves the law as the last meaningful avenue to delineate boundaries for worker surveillance.
In this Article, we examine the effectiveness of the law as a check on worker surveillance, given recent technological innovations. In particular, we focus on two popular trends in worker tracking – productivity apps and worker wellness programs – to argue that current legal constraints are insufficient and may leave American workers at the mercy of 24/7 employer monitoring. We then propose a new comprehensive framework for worker privacy protections that should withstand current and future trends.'The Flexible Cyborg: Work-Life Balance in Legal Practice' by Margaret Thornton in (2016) 38(1) Sydney Law Review 1-21 comments
‘Work/life balance’ (WLB) emerged as the catchcry of workers everywhere in the late 20th century. It was particularly appealing to women lawyers as it was thought that if a balance could be effected between work and life, satisfying careers and the raising of children could be combined. The key to effecting this balance, it was believed, was flexible work. Technology has facilitated this flexibility as all that is required is a computer, or other device with internet connection, and a mobile phone. Provided that the firm is agreeable, the lawyer would have a degree of autonomy in determining when and where the work is carried out. However, flexible work has not always proved to be the boon that was hoped, for the shift from face-time to virtual time has blurred the boundary between work and life, insidiously extending the hours of work and impinging on the realm of intimacy. Drawing on a web-based survey and interviews with lawyers Australia-wide, this article considers the ramifications of perpetual connectivity for lawyers in private practice, with particular regard to its gender significance.