Understanding the rights of business owners and employees when it comes to GPS tracking

If you are a business owner considering the use of GPS tracking devices to help you manage remote employees, it’s important to understand your rights and the rights of your workers before you get started. As an employer, you are legally allowed to make sure that your employees are where they say they are while they are on the clock. However, it is also important for you to be aware of the potential legalities involved in some kinds of employee monitoring.

Knowing Your Rights As the Boss

rights as boss

Laws regarding an employer’s rights to monitor his or her employees vary from state to state, so you’ll want to know exactly what the laws say in the state where your business operates. For example, if you’re tracking a vehicle that an employee is driving for work, some states may require that employees be aware of the presence of the tracking device while other states only require that the employer own the vehicle or device that has the tracker attached to it.

BrickHouse Security does not condone illicit tracking. While illicit tracking is typically associated with illegal tracking, recent lawsuits regarding employer-employee tracking have focused on the ethical implications of tracking rather than the legality of it. In order to protect yourself from unwanted legal action, we recommend that you familiarize yourself with GPS tracking laws , especially those in your state, to ensure that the tracking methods you choose to use operate within the legal parameters set by your state. Consulting with a local lawyer is often helpful as they can provide more information about laws in your area and insight into the kinds of actions that may lead to lawsuits from employees.

General Principles to Consider When it Comes to Employee Tracking

Why do employers consider GPS tracking in the first place? Often, it’s because they’re concerned about the whereabouts of their expensive assets, such as company vehicles and equipment, as well as the efficiency of their employees’ movements in the field. After all, the term “time is money” is accurate to service-based companies as travel time inefficiencies can cause the loss of customers and profit. Because there are few legal restrictions on employers who wish to track their employees’ movements while using equipment the company owns, many look to GPS tracking as a way to ensure efficiency.

Some of the benefits employers enjoy when using GPS tracking devices on their assets include:

  • Knowledge of the location of vehicles, equipment, and by extension, employees
  • Ensuring that employees are clocking in and out on time
  • Monitoring the location of remote or traveling employees to determine where they are at different times of the day
  • Management of correct mileage reporting and authorized or unauthorized detours

Some employees fear GPS tracking because they are afraid of having their actions scrutinized, but the truth is that most employers utilize GPS tracking devices to optimize efficiency, plan routes, ensure customer satisfaction, and have peace of mind about the whereabouts of their important assets.

Geofences are a useful tool for this. A “geofence” is a border around a specific area on the map, usually the area where the employee is expected to be, and the employer will be notified if the employee drives outside of that area for any reason. This allows employers to identify whether their employees are leaving geofenced areas to find better routes, take care of personal errands, etc. Naturally, the employer shouldn’t automatically assume that their employee is doing something inappropriate, but the information can lead to conversations with employees and give employers the opportunity to understand employees’ needs.

What Employees Need to Know About Being Tracked

If you are considering employing the use of GPS trackers in your business, it is important for you to listen carefully to the concerns that your employees have about being tracked and make an effort to understand their expectations. When it comes to selecting how and when to monitor your employees, whether you are tracking their location or performance, there are some basic things you should consider:

  • What do your employees regard as their reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace?
  • Who is the legal owner of the device or vehicle you want to track?
  • Is the equipment being used or authorized to be used only during work hours or is the employee allowed discretionary or personal use?
  • What information have you provided to your employees about privacy, tracking, monitoring, etc.?

While many employees often expect certain kinds of monitoring from their employers, such as tracked internet usage on a company computer, they may not expect other more invasive types of monitoring, like their company phone to be reporting their location back to their boss, during or even after hours. This can often feel like a violation of an employee’s right to privacy, and employees who seek legal action in GPS tracking cases often begin the process because of this feeling. Because the issue of tracking employees via GPS trackers can be such a controversial legal issue, it is important for business owners and managers to know where they stand, legally and ethically, on the issue.

Ethical Use of GPS Tracking in Business

While it may be legally acceptable to track employees in your state, an employer is faced with the question of whether it is morally acceptable to do so. The best way to protect yourself from legal trouble is to make sure that your employees have a clear understanding of what you’re doing to monitor them, and that they feel safe expressing their concerns about the subject.

Some tips for ensuring that you’re protected are:

  • Define your company’s privacy policy in clear terms so that employees are not taken by surprise.Understand your employee’s reasonable expectations of privacy as these may help guide your actions in that area.
  • Be clear with employees about your intentions with their data if they are aware that you are tracking them, in order to help eliminate suspicions, frustrations, and fears that your employees may have.
  • Give your employees a safe place to express their concerns so that you can be aware of potentially worrisome situations and avoid possible “whistleblowing” events.
  • Limit information gathered to the bare minimum of what is required, such as keeping tabs on company equipment and verifying details of house calls, etc.
  • Disable tracking after business hours, if possible, to allow your employees privacy off the clock.

It can be helpful to make your intentions clear to your employees, emphasizing that your reasons for using GPS tracking is to improve efficiency rather than to monitor individual employee performance. While you may still choose to discipline employees who make unauthorized stops, keep dishonest time records, or engage in risky behavior with your company’s assets, honest employees will be deterred from that kind of behavior when they know you’re watching.

As an employer, there will always be some risks involved with monitoring employees, but if handled in an appropriate manner, it is possible to create a relationship of trust within your team. Employers often find that when GPS tracking is done in a responsible and healthy way, with open communication between employers and employees, the endeavor can be successful.

Updated April 25, 2024