Last week, a friend sent me a link to the Toronto Star article, “Bay Street law firm uses fingerprint technology to monitor employees’ comings and going”.  The subtitle is, “The days of sneaking out of the office for three-hour lunch breaks will soon be over at one Bay Street law firm.”

According to the article, a Toronto firm will begin requiring all staff, except lawyers who spend much of their time with clients, to clock in and out of the office with a figure swipe.  The founding partner explained that “some people were abusing the system” and that this was a way of keeping track. The system is expected to go live in November 2013.

Oh where to begin.

First, the glory days of Mad Men are over.  Long liquid lunches, or any regular lunch other than a quick wolf-down in the food court, are in the past for any lawyer I know.  As billable hour targets continue to creep up, as both men and women want to play a more hands on role at home, and as partnership tracks get longer and more challenging, most lawyers want to just get to it, get it done and get home.  And if lawyers don’t meet target, the time entry system will shed light on the numbers and everyone can sort it out before year’s end.

Ultimately, I would think the time entry and billable hour system already serves the same purpose as any fingerprinting technology could for lawyers.

For non-time keepers, where is HR in all of this? If an assistant is regularly taking a 3 hour lunch, doesn’t anyone notice and proceed to have a discussion with him or her? If that doesn’t do the trick, then move on to some progressive discipline.  At the risk of over simplifying this, I remain curious why the HR function is being outsourced to technology.

Perhaps a person is 3 hours late each day because of her medical treatments, or is taking a longer lunch to attend his AA meetings. HR’s critical role is to figure out the human element of the situation, work through any human rights issues, and apply the workplace rules and procedures.  No machine can do that.

Whether or not the employer is entitled to install a finger printing system is beside the point. While technology can be an exciting tool for remote working, convenience, quick communications and seamless integration between the office and client services, it can also apparently degenerate into a vehicle for Big Brother employee surveillance in the place of an effective HR mandate.