An interesting case is making its way through the courts, and the employer tried to use the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act to get out of their alleged bad behavior.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened. An Enterprise Rent-A-Car facility in Cook Country used a fingerprint timekeeping system for its employees. When employees arrived at the beginning of their shift, the system scanned their fingerprints and they clocked in. The same process was repeated at the end of their shift to clock out.

A former employee at this facility, Dawon Wordlaw, brought a lawsuit against Enterprise Leasing Co. of Chicago and its parent company Enterprise Holdings Inc. under the Biometric Information Privacy Act, or BIPA. BIPA is an Illinois law requiring employers to get informed consent from workers before collecting biometric data, such as fingerprints.  It’s a newer law and companies are screwing up with it all the time.

Ms. Wordlaw alleges that Enterprise used its timekeeping system to collect, keep, and share her fingerprints without her informed consent.

She claims that Enterprise: 1) didn’t tell her that her biometric information was being collected and why it was being collected; 2) didn’t get her written release to allow the company to collect and store the info; 3) didn’t create a publicly available policy that included a schedule for retaining biometric information and guidelines for destroying that info; and 4) shared her biometric data without her permission. Wordlaw maintains that Enterprise gave access to her biometric data to its subsidiaries, data storage vendors and payroll service providers.

In response, Enterprise sought to dismiss Wordlaw’s lawsuit, arguing that she should not sue them for negligence, and that the matter would be covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  That Act bars employees for suing their companies for accidents in exchange for getting work comp benefits.

After reviewing the arguments, a federal judge rejected Enterprise’s argument. The judge explained that an accident under the Workers’ Compensation Act is “anything that happens without design or an event which is unforeseen by the person to whom it happens.” He continued, and wrote that the BIPA violations, “were no accident.”

This goes to show that not every issue between an employer and employee falls under the Workers’ Compensation umbrella. And quite honestly, the defense they raised sounds ridiculous to me. If you believe that your employer is gathering your biometric data without your consent, feel free to contact us to speak with a lawyer for free. It’s not always a cut-and-dried matter, and we’d be happy to be a sounding board for you.