When Is It Okay to Track Your Employees?

In 2015, a lawsuit between wire transfer company Intermex and former employee Myrna Arias made news for its implications about employee privacy. Arias was terminated from her job as a salesperson after removing the tracking system from her company-issued phone. Her reason for removing the app was that it was tracking her off the clock. When her employer told her she had to keep the phone on 24/7 and admitted to having ability to track her driving speed, she made the choice to remove it.

According to all online accounts, this case was settled out of court. However it still opens up a conversation about the relationship between employees and their employers. How much surveillance is too much?


The ethical and legal ramifications surrounding employee surveillance aren’t always clear. In fact, they change with state laws and other situational factors. But with the opportunities afforded to businesses by technology, employers will likely want to track workers in order to keep a tight ship running. Where should the line be drawn?


The Legality of Tracking Employees

Employee tracking is considered by most to be a legal grey area, which can make ethical questions surrounding the practice difficult to answer. The problem is that there are so many factors that go into it, and it’s highly situational. Some of them include:


●     Whether the device or vehicle is employer property.

●     Whether tracking is being done on the clock or off.

●     The right to employee disclosure for employers.

●     The right to privacy for employees.


These are fair things to be concerned about from an employee perspective. However, when The Atlantic covered this topic a couple years ago, they found that employers get the sweet end of the deal most of the time:


The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures, but it only constrains the government’s actions … If your boss wants to track your phone, it’s likely within his or her rights … There’s no federal privacy law to keep businesses from tracking their employees with GPS, and only a handful of states impose restrictions on it.


The article went on to show that while tracking a vehicle without the owner’s consent is illegal in some states, there really isn’t any hard law to stop this tracking from happening. In the cases that do end up going to court, situational circumstances make all the difference. But there is no national hard law on employee surveillance.


The Pros and Cons of Data

The emergence of big data has grown the reach and ability of businesses to new heights. Never before have there been so many analytic insights at a company’s fingertips. Operations can be run remotely, and records are often stored on the cloud. Even as far as the employee-employer relationship goes, businesses are now able to log employee hours and activity from remote locations. They can also communicate to their employees and departments while on the go.


Of course, this progress isn’t without its downsides. Mistakes involving client data or interorganizational miscommunication can deliver a low blow to a company’s foundation. With all of the information at our disposal, our data has become more vulnerable to failure and theft as well.


Data is notable in how staff members communicate with their superiors and vice versa, and even holds safety ramifications. For instance, an employer’s tracking systems could help to prevent common workplace injuries. Yet for each of these preventions, privacy concerns still exist.


Precautions for Tracking

If an employer is going to track their employees in any way, there are some necessary precautions. For companies managing fleets of employees moving freight, for instance, safety and efficiency are top concerns. To have drivers consent to using GPS tracking, employers must be transparent about what they will track. The most efficient GPS tracking technology is designed with transparency in mind, showing employees exactly what is being tracked.


Most online content regarding e-mail, GPS, smartphone, or vehicle tracking agrees with this sentiment — employee consent is the most important aspect of tracking. The law is too murky to take chances in this regard, and being oblique about what is being tracked is sketchy enough to earn a business a bad reputation.



When is it okay to track your employees? Most lawyers, journalists, and other researchers agree:


●     Only track employees who have given their formal consent.

●     Only track them while they’re on the clock.

●     Only track vehicles or devices that legally belong to the employer.


Furthermore, tracking should never be for the purpose of intimidation. It should only be done to ensure nothing goes awry within a business operation. The right to privacy is vital, and disrespecting employees will cause them not to trust you. It could get you in legal trouble as well, and you never know how such a situation might play out.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for preventing automated spam submissions.