Imagine you’re at the office and you want a snack from the vending machine in the break room. Instead of digging around for change or fishing through your wallet for your debit card, you simply wave your hand in front of the machine, money comes out of your bank account, and you get your snickers bar.
How did your hand magically pay for your treat? Via a microchip that was implanted underneath your skin by your employer. This may sound like something from the year 3020, or maybe from an episode of Black Mirror, but it’s not.
While it hasn’t exactly become mainstream just yet, the practice of microchipping employees is happening in companies around the world, and is likely going to become more popular as technology in the workplace becomes more and more advanced (and accepted).
Lawmakers across the country are now preemptively setting bills in motion to protect workers’ rights, before the technology gets out of hand.
RFID stands for radio-frequency identification. These microchips, which are about the size of a grain of rice and are implanted in the skin between the thumb and the forefinger, can replace many of the mobile apps and services we use today.
They can also replace the need for ID checks, time cards, security checks, payments, and building access control at workplaces. The concern, of course, is that these devices could compromise individual rights to privacy- even when they leave the office .
The Microchip Protection Act
On wednesday, June 24, Michigan lawmakers passed the “Microchip Protection Act”, prohibiting employers from requiring workers to accept a microchip implant.
According to State Representative Bronna Kahle of Lenawee County, who sponsored the bill, more and more companies are implanting microchips, about the size of a grain of rice, into employees’ hands to track productivity and look for ways to improve company efficiency.
“With the way technology has increased over the years and as it continues to grow, it’s important Michigan job providers balance the interests of the company with their employees’ expectations of privacy,” she said .
This law was quickly misinterpreted, however, and many individuals and groups began speaking out on various social media platforms against the bill, admonishing it for endorsing and encouraging the use of the device in humans.
Various accusations have now been popping up online, alleging that the bill is part of some kind of scheme by the Michigan government against its citizens. In the weeks that followed the decision, a website called Great Game India, which has been known to spread misinformation about other major events, such as the origins of COVID-19, published the following statement:
“The Michigan House of Representatives has passed a controversial bill to microchip humans voluntarily in the state under the guise of protecting their privacy. The Microchip Protection Act would allow Michigan employers to use microchipping of their workers with their consent. However, research has shown that [radio frequency identification] RFID transponders causes cancer.” 
Another Michigan-based blogger accused state lawmakers of threatening citizens’ privacy and civil rights, saying that the bill creates legitimacy for employers considering using the technology in the first place. Once you have a chip, they wrote, anyone could track you, including companies who want to advertise to you, or even thieves who want to know when you leave your home .
Understanding the Law
The key word included in this law is the word voluntary. The Michigan House passed legislation that would allow employers to microchip employees on a voluntary basis. It is important to understand two things before going any further:
- There are currently no companies in Michigan that are microchipping employees.
- Under current US law, companies can legally implant microchips in their employees .
The bill, which contains five sections, also includes an introduction that explains its purpose. It is as follows:
“A bill to prohibit employers from requiring employees and prospective employees to have devices implanted or otherwise incorporated into their bodies as a condition of employment or any employment benefit; to prohibit employers from discriminating in the terms, conditions, and benefits of employment against employees who refuse to have a device implanted and otherwise incorporated into their bodies; and to provide remedies.”
Essentially, what this bill is doing is giving legal grounds for employees or potential employees to sue bosses who make microchipping mandatory for employment. It is also protecting employees who do not want to use the chips from being treated differently or unfairly by bosses from their pro-chip co-workers.
Before the bill was passed, Republican representative Alan Morrison said that as this type of technology becomes more prevalent, citizens need to be aware of their rights.
“It is crucial to take the necessary steps now to ensure more safety and privacy in the future” .
The third section of the bill also outlined special circumstances within which an employer can make microchipping a mandatory requirement for employment. While this sounds alarming, the situation in which this would happen is very specific.
Essentially, the new legislation states that if a Michigan citizen has been mandated by lawmakers to wear a microchip, for example, if it is being used as a tool by probation or parole officers to track the whereabouts of someone who is serving a criminal sentence, an employer could require that individual to wear that device at work .
The following section explains under what circumstance those employees could seek damages. The final section of the bill states that this act does not limit the employee or prospective employee’s rights under any state or federal law, which includes laws that protect privacy and confidentiality.
The bottom line is, this law does not, in any way, establish a legal framework that would allow Michigan employers to microchip employees against their will .
How Common is Microchipping in the US?
As of today, not very. Wisconsin company Three Square Market was the first widely known US company to use the devices when fifty employees volunteered to have a microchip implanted in their hands .
The trend has not caught on just yet in the rest of the country, however. Amal Graafstra, CEO of Dangerous Things, a Seattle, Washington-based implantable chip manufacturer and distributor, said that he only received approximately one hundred orders from US companies between 2015 and 2018.
Despite this, state lawmakers are trying to get ahead of the trend and enacting laws prohibiting mandatory microchipping before their use becomes more widespread. Today, more than a dozen states have put legislation in place that prohibits mandatory microchipping .
While microchipping hasn’t become commonplace just yet in the US, more and more lawmakers are taking preventative action to protect workers’ rights.