Is it Legal to Track Employees Using GPS?

Is it Legal to Track Employees Using GPS?
Productivity
By Cristina Kuptzin-Johnson | 17 minute read

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from ClockShark, LLC. or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.


The U.S. Government says the Global Positioning System (GPS) has many helpful, beneficial applications, that not only increase productivity for sectors like:

    • Farming
      • Construction
      • Mining
      • Surveying
      • Package delivery
      • Logistical supply chain management
      • And more

      It’s also used to provide for improved personal and public safety and is a crucial part of the country’s national security.

      GPS has been adopted for many different applications including:

      • Agriculture
      • Aviation
      • Environment
      • Marine
      • Public Safety & Disaster Relief
      • Rail
      • Recreation
      • Roads & Highways
      • Space
      • Surveying & mapping
      • Timing

      It may seem simple. Attach a GPS device to your company vehicles or use a mobile time tracking app and you’re good to go. But wait. Is tracking employees with GPS technology legal?

      Yes, but it’s not as cut-and-dry as that and it can vary depending on where you are.

      There are federal laws that protect our privacy but there are also state and local statutes and regulations that vary.

      How to Introduce GPS Time Tracking to Your Mobile Workforce

      Laws on GPS Tracking

      There are not, yet, any specific Federal laws or regulations on GPS employee tracking although the Federal government draws largely on the Bill of Rights for helping enforce privacy protection, specifically the Fourth Amendment which reads:

      “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

      This and other Amendments can be used to bring lawsuits against employers who are tracking employees in invasive ways. But since GPS was unfathomable when the Bill of Rights was created, there is no true outline of the legalities of it.

      Also, GPS and privacy laws are different for employers/employees than, say, criminal surveillance on private vehicles which has legal limitations.

      Legality of GPS Tracking

      GPS tracking isn’t new. It was introduced as a requirement for cell phone companies to initiate for emergency 911 purposes to “pinpoint the location of someone calling 911 to the nearest cell tower.”

      Now, it’s become popular across the globe. Since it’s grown at a faster rate than legislation, defining the legality of GPS location tracking can be a challenge.

      According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, it is perfectly legal in most states, “within limits”.

      Some states, they report, have addressed privacy issues. For example, Connecticut requires employers to inform their employees they are using GPS technology and other states are expected to introduce similar legislation.

      Currently, in the United States, the majority of states have no “binding authority” and your location information is unprotected, according to this interactive map from the ACLU. For employers, in general, you are legally permitted to use GPS tracking for work-related purposes only.

      Legal Cases

      There have been cases brought against employers about the use of GPS tracking in the workplace. For union workers, for example, employers can face employee pushback such as in the 2011 case of Haggins v. Verizon New England, Inc.

      The case filed by the workers and represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers asserted the use of cell phones for GPS tracking was a violation of their rights.

      After hearing the arguments, the Massachusetts court found, 

      "the employer's legitimate interest in determining the employees' effectiveness in their jobs should be balanced against the seriousness of the intrusion on the employees' privacy" and “that "for a plaintiff to succeed on an invasion of privacy claim, he must prove not only that the defendant unreasonably, substantially and seriously interfered with his privacy by disclosing facts of highly personal or intimate nature, but also that it had no legitimate reason for doing so."

      Ultimately, the circuit court dismissed the case brought by the workers.

      For non-union workers, you may find pushback based on their concerns over the violation of their privacy. However, as long as you are not violating any of their rights covered in the National Labor Relations Act or their rights to privacy outside of work, and explain the process to them, it will make GPS tracking more acceptable.

      Evolution Of Legislation

      Since there are no clear guidelines, experts suggest that employers who use a GPS location tracking system follow some basic rules to avoid civil tort litigation for invasion of privacy. These suggestions include:

      • Notifying employees that they are subject to monitoring.
      • Informing employees that they should have no expectation of privacy when using your company's GPS.
      • Obtaining the written consent of employees to be monitored by GPS on company-issued devices. In most jurisdictions, consent is an affirmative defense to tort claims and can eliminate or reduce the risks associated with a GPS monitoring program. Some states, such as California, have laws that restrict the manner in which employers can monitor employees without consent.
      • Verifying that their GPS surveillance programs comply with local legal requirements.
      • Limiting their monitoring of employees to work time to avoid intruding on employees' personal lives outside of working hours.

      You can also ensure they are not being tracked outside of work by using a mobile time tracking or GPS app that can be shut down when not in use.

      GPS Time Tracking: Employees' Concerns

      GPS Is Here To Stay

      With the advancement of technology, GPS has evolved from Sputnik to become an incredibly powerful tool for today’s employers who have remote workers and field crews. It helps save time and money, hold employees accountable, and protect workers in ways we never imagined.

      And GPS is not just used by employers. In fact tech giants like Google and Facebook are consistently tracking our locations, preferences, habits, and behaviors, even when we don’t know it.

      The difference with many mobile GPS location tracking solutions for employers is employees can find comfort and peace of mind knowing they can turn off the tracking once they have clocked out of work.

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