Due to the numerous invaluable benefits that GPS tracking can offer, you can’t blame employers for using GPS location tracking technology for tracking employees.
Among the reasons companies choose to use a GPS tracking device in their workplace are the following:
- It helps them check if their employees are engaging in illegal activities or behavior such as misuse of company assets and drug use.
- It helps them track employees who are honest and productive.
- It helps evaluate employees performance whether they deserve a raise or need more training.
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These are just some of the instances wherein an employer may choose to install a GPS tracking system. However, the question is, are they legally allowed to track employees? Let’s say they suspect that one or more of their employees are doing some illegal activities, are they allowed to use a tracking device and start tracking employees to confirm their suspicion?
Tracking Employees : Legal Or Not?
What’s clear is that, companies are allowed to put GPS locators on company-owned vehicles, if it’s for business purposes.
In O’Connor v. Ortega 480 US709 (1987), the US Supreme Court ruled that workplace searches never require a warrant. Also the Matter of Caruso v. Ward72 NY2d 432 (1988) confirms that applying New York law, random workplace drug testing does not require a warrant.
As for employers planting GPS trackers on employee’s personal car, this case can guide them.
In Cunningham v. New York State Dept. of Labor (2013 NY Slip Op 04838) case at New York’s Appellate Division, an employee was subjected to a disciplinary action based on the information gathered using a personal tracking device hidden on his own car.
Michael Cunningham was a field employee of the state’s department of labor for 20 years. He was suspected by his employer of falsifying his time reports in addition to unauthorized absences. In Cunningham’s time sheets, he claimed extended business trips when in truth, he just went home early.
What his employer did was hire an investigator to confirm his hunches. Cunningham was able to avoid the private investigator. However, he didn’t expect what his employee did next—he installed a GPS tracker on Cunningham’s car.
For a month, Cunningham’s whereabouts were tracked without his knowledge. The employer must have used a GPS tracker with long battery life because for the entire month of monitoring, they only changed the battery twice.
The evidence obtained from the GPS tracking device was used against Cunningham, which resulted in termination. The court decided that the use of a GPS device in confirming Cunningham’s wrongdoings was justifiable. Furthermore, the court also believed that one month of tracking employees was valid enough reason.
On the other hand, the court held that 24/7 of tracking employees was too much. The court didn’t agree the tracking of time outside the declared working hours. It was found out that the employer didn’t remove the tracking device even when Cunningham was on a vacation, which the employer should have done.
In respect to GPS tracking, New York’s Constitution protects its citizen’s rights to privacy within the confine of his house or properties against searches and seizures without reasonable cause.
In the Cunningham case, New York’s Appellate Division decided that an employee’s private car, if also used for business purposes, will be considered as an extension of his workplace; thus, installation of GPS location device to track employees is valid.
Therefore, the court separated the employment setting from the police investigation setting. According to People v. Weaver, 12 NY3d 433, 447 (2009), holding the attachment of a GPS tracking device to a suspect’s car always requires a court-issued warrant with sufficient ground; and in United States v. Jones 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012), holding attachment of GPS tracking device to a suspect’s car is a trespass and needs a warrant.
Remarkably, this means the decision is not applicable to other GPS tracking systems like GPS mobile trackers. Still, even with a valid reason, employers must be careful when using location tracking technology on their employee’s private vehicle to avoid violating the employee’s right of privacy.
To avoid being too intrusive (like in the Cunningham case), companies should be wise to choose a GPS tracking device that would allow them to turn off the device’s monitoring function outside working hours like during weekends or when employees are on vacation. Or ask the HR department to create a policy that would stop the GPS device manager from being able to track the employees during off-work hours.
In tracking employees’ private car, companies should make sure that everything is documented. They should list down the complete targeted location of the GPS tracker as well as present the limits of the surveillance. Companies can obtain necessary information needed to build a case against an employee without invading their privacy.