Baseball, Hot Dogs & Apple Pie Watches: A New Era of Employer Concern

Posted by Kenneth N. Winkler on

The Boston Red Sox recently got caught stealing catcher signals by their rival the New York Yankees. This alone is not shocking. Stealing signals has long been a part of major league baseball.  In 2010, the Colorado Rockies accused the Philadelphia Phillies of using binoculars from the bullpen to steal signals from the catcher and gain an unfair advantage.  That story got attention when it occurred, but has long been forgotten. What makes the Red Sox scheme worth noting is the team’s use of technology. MLB investigators determined that the Red Sox stole hand signals from the opponents’ catchers with the use of cameras and an Apple Watch. 

The scheme involved 4 steps:

  1. The Red Sox studied video replay from a center field camera to decode the catcher’s signals.
  2. A team trainer in the dugout received the decoding information on his Apple Watch.
  3. The trainer related the information to a player in the dugout.
  4. The player relayed the information to the runner on second base, who tipped off the batter.

The New York Times cleverly diagramed the scheme which can be found here.

Technology advances will certainly create challenges for MLB and other leagues in their efforts to thwart cheating. These same challenges apply to employers of all sizes and industries. New devices with amazing capabilities are entering the workplace at a rapid pace and will continue to do so. While these devices will bring great value to the user, they also raise problems for employers. Employers must be proactive in addressing risks that arise from the use of electronic devices – including Apple Watches and similar products. These risks include, but are not limited to, the protection of trade secrets and confidential information from misappropriation. Consideration should be given to a number of important questions including:  

  1. Whether to adopt a “Bring Your Own Device” (“BYOD”) policy or a “Company-Owned, Personally Enabled” (“COPE”) device policy.
  2. How will you protect company information from being hacked?
  3. How will you protect employee privacy?
  4. How will you preserve company data?
  5. How will you handle damaged devices?
  6. How will you ensure compliance with wage and hour laws? If nonexempt employees are asked to use personal devices for work, the employer is exposed to potential overtime compliance risks.

The Red Sox Apple Watch story seems somewhat humorous and innocent on its surface, because it involves baseball and the longstanding acceptance that signal stealing is an acceptable practice. I would encourage employers to take a more serious view of the story, and treat it as a wake-up call to address the risks associated with technology advances in the workplace.