• GPS Tracking - How Much Should a Company Know When Employees Are off the Clock?
  • October 20, 2005 | Author: Andrea G. Chatfield
  • Law Firm: McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton Professional Association - Manchester Office
  • Employee tracking technology, which ranges from global positioning systems on company vehicles to tracking the location of employees while they are using cell phones and handheld computers, is transforming the workplace while introducing a myriad of legal concerns. Recently, a local town came under fire because its police officers were videotaped at home when they should have been on patrol. In another news story last winter, snow plow operators threatened to go out on strike if their plows were equipped with GPS devices (global positioning systems). The employer cited efficiency and better organization of services as reasons for installing the devices; the drivers felt it was an invasion of privacy.

    Location tracking technology is becoming a multi-billion dollar business. Its use in the employment context will inevitably increase, especially with employers whose employees drive company vehicles, and use cell phones, handheld computers and other devices provided by the employer. Because employees often are permitted to use such equipment and vehicles for nonwork-related purposes, the possibility that an employer can monitor what an employee is doing during personal time increases.

    Employees may have reasonable expectations of privacy in the use of company-issued equipment, especially when such use is off-the-clock. Further, it is conceivable for employees to raise emotional distress or violation of public policy claims stemming from the misuse of data collected while he or she was off duty. For example, if an employee is driving too fast during nonwork hours or has parked the company vehicle in front of another employee's house with whom he is rumored to be having an affair, whether or not the employer can use such information to reprimand the employee is still legally an open issue.

    If an employer decides to use location tracking systems for employees, it should have a clearly defined policy on its right to access or monitor certain employee activities. Such policy or guideline also should inform employees as to when they will be monitored, and how the information from such monitoring will be used. The employer also should distribute a copy of the policy to each employee who will be tracked and have the employee sign an acknowledgement stating that they received the policy and understand it.

    By having such policies in place, the employer can reduce the risk that the employee had any expectation of privacy in using company owned equipment. However, employers must ensure that the use of location tracking devices is consistent with the policy it has established and is solely for legitimate business-related purposes such as monitoring productivity or investigating suspected work-related misconduct. Also, whenever possible, it should limit monitoring or tracking to employees' work time only.