Is It Legal To Track Employees With GPS?
Companies are increasingly making use of GPS to keep track of their employees. This may not only be during their working hours, but also when they are off the clock. Many people believe employers should not be concerned about what their staff is doing before or after they are on the job. Many, however, think differently. We may not yet be at the stage where employers are tracking the employees themselves (although we're not far off it). However, the devices, equipment and vehicles used for business are. Monitoring employees give an idea of their character, their daily routine, and if they are involved in any criminal or unethical activities. But is it legal to track employees with GPS? Read more about it here at oneHOWTO.
Why do companies want to track employees?
Often, businesses track their employees in order to keep an eye on equipment. This could be a company van or an employer-issued cell phone. Sometimes, they also track their employees in order to ensure they are entering and leaving the workplace on time. Employers need to track their employees especially if they work remotely, as do plumbers and technicians. Since these employees need to make house calls, companies want to know their whereabouts and ensure that they are telling their correct location. Some employers also want to ensure that their employers are correctly reporting their mileage and that they are not detouring between their working hours to finish personal chores.
There can be several benefits of tracking employees through GPS, including:
- Streamlining travel of mobile employees (e.g. delivery staff).
- Monitoring overtime of employees.
- Maintaining safety regulations by ensuring employees are not violating traffic rules.
- Confirming that time records are correct, the employees are following the company rules and they are staying safe during office hours. You can track suspected missing drivers with GPS if they are thought to be missing.
However, before you start using GPS for monitoring your employees, you need to keep in mind the legal obligations and consider your employees’ privacy. At the same time, employees should also stay safe and ensure that they do not breach their employers’ trust.
Find a relevant reason to track employees
Before you start monitoring your employees, you need to give them a valid reason as to why you are doing so. If they are not satisfied with your reasoning, then your employees may feel they are being robbed of their privacy. Some legitimate rationales include:
- To prevent loss of working hours
- To increase productivity
- To improve response time
- To keep accurate records of attendance and time
- To increase efficiency of traveling routes
- To locate the whereabouts of employees quickly
Different states have different laws stating GPS tracking of employees. For instance, some state laws allow employers to track their company issued vehicles, tablets, computers, cell phones, etc. to prevent theft. But they would need permission from the employees if they wish to track their personal cell phone, computer or vehicle.
Employers who want to track employees with GPS should provide notice to their employees beforehand, so that they can handle any legal issues that may arise due to the program. By doing so, companies will also get time to answer any issues the employees may raise.
Legality of employee tracking
GPS tracking devices are deemed to be legal by most judicial systems. Surveillance of the workplace is completely legal and even necessary. If an employee is travelling to another location for work, doesn’t the boss have the right to track them? However, it is important to draw a line between an employee’s professional and personal time. The main idea is to keep tabs on your employees only when they are supposed to be at work. For instance, if you sent an employee to deliver an order to a client, and their cell phone showed their location at their home, then you have all the right to question them. But if you found their location at a bar after office hours, then they have the right do whatever legal activity they want without providing their employer with a reason.
Getting consent from employees
While employers have the right to use strategies to root out misconduct among their staff, they can do so during working hours even without notifying employees. In one case, an employee was fired from his job because the location of his cell phone was at home while he was supposed to be at work. He used to leave the office early, while he was getting paid for full working hours. Some state laws permit employers to track their employees’ location during working hours, while others forbid them from doing this without consent from the employees.
Best GPS tracking practices
Whether you want to track your employees for maximizing efficiency, ensuring safety standards compliance or investigating workers not fulfilling their contractual obligations, you should implement the following practices first:
- Know any laws in your region that you need to follow to protect the privacy of your employees. While you are GPS tracking your employee’s vehicle or cell phone, make sure you are respecting their privacy and are following the legal requirements of your particular state.
- GPS tracking should be used only in company owned devices or vehicles. According to law, tracking an employee while they are using a company owner property is legal, especially when the employees are warned they are being tracked. But tracking an employee’s personal property is legally complicated.
- You should track an employee only to the extent of business requirements. If you are tracking their each and every move, then the employees will feel their privacy is being violated. In these cases, they have the right to commence litigation if desired. Therefore, as an employer, you should monitor your employees only to the extent of business needs and not interfere in their personal life outside of the company.
- Have a written and agreed upon GPS tracking policy. The policy should describe the valid reasons as to why you are using the technology. It should also state how and when you would be tracking your employees, with emphasis on safeguarding any collected data. It should also warn employees against disabling their GPS tracking feature and what action may be taken if this occurs. Ensure all your employees are well-versed in the policy, understand it completely and abide by it.
- Finally, you need to be considerate, responsible and respect the privacy of your employees. You have the right to monitor your employees only during their work hours. You can track their location only for specific business related purposes and you have nothing to do with their private whereabouts.
Today, the facility of employers to track their employees is readily available. While companies may have a number of legitimate reasons to monitor their employees using GPS, they need to ensure their tracking does not violate the personal life of their workers. They should track the employees in a legal way and not beak employees’ trust. They also need to respect employees and their worker's rights. As GPS collars are put onto pets to track them, there is an understandable concern that human workers will be treated like animals. The companies need to review the legal obligations applicable in their state before covering their employees under GPS tracking. Since there are no strict laws concerning employee monitoring, the key is to learn the laws in your particular state before commencing any tracking programs.
While there are benefits to employers, the tracking of staff with GPS could be a slippery slope. While there is a PR campaign to show they are improving rights for Chinese citizens, China has not had the most exemplary human rights record, especially when it comes to employees. There are even recent reports of employers using ‘emotional surveillance technology’ to monitor emotions and brainwaves in Chinese companies. They are designed to monitor humans for sadness, rage, anxiety or any other such ‘unproductive’ emotions. Monitoring actual human feelings on a second by second basis certainly seems like an invasion of privacy. Tracking GPS location isn't the same thing, but it's in the same ball park.
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