Academic journal article Labor Law Journal

Notes On: GPS Technology; Employee Monitoring Enters a New Era

Academic journal article Labor Law Journal

Notes On: GPS Technology; Employee Monitoring Enters a New Era

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Employers are increasingly keeping track of employees via various electronic means and can monitor virtually every aspect of an employee's working time - from video surveillance to electronically monitoring an employee's e-mail, instant messages, internet website connections, and keystrokes. More recently, companies are now choosing to keep tabs on employees by using Global Positioning System ("GPS") technology, which uses a constellation of satellites to determine the precise location of the GPS-enabled device. Any vehicle, cell phone, or other handheld device can be equipped with a GPS receiver to determine the exact location of the device. In addition to being able to pin-point the location of the device, and the employee using the device, at any point in time, the technology can also be used to confirm a mobile employee's route, check the speed and direction the employee is heading, determine how much time was spent at a particular location, or notify the employer when a vehicle exits a specified geographic zone. Some companies even use GPS to monitor employee ID/Smartcards to control physical security and access to buildings.

Although already prevalent in the workplace today, more companies will likely implement GPS monitoring systems as the technology becomes more affordable, accessible, and smaller. In fact, following a mandate by the Federal Communications Commission that wireless providers must be able to locate the origin of a 91 1 call within 100 feet, practically all new cell phones are now equipped with GPS technology that could be used to track employees.

Although there are several legitimate business reasons for using such systems to track employees, using GPS technology in the workplace is not without risks and could be challenged by employees. Fortunately, employers can take steps to avoid incurring unnecessary liability while still effectively using GPS to monitor employees in the workplace.


Employers have a legitimate interest to monitor the activities of employees while on working time. However, before the advent of electronic monitoring, employers could only rely on visual observation to ensure that employees were performing their jobs as expected. For example, an employer previously had little means to supervise its mobile workforce and, instead, had to trust that its employees were not taking advantage of their independence out in the field. Of course, such trust was not always well placed and an employee could take advantage of the lack of direct oversight.

Among other things, a GPS system can be used to cut down on unauthorized use of company vehicles and can encourage employees to make a more efficient use of their time. For example, after installing a GPS system on twentytwo front loading garbage trucks, an automated waste disposal company reduced its overtime by more than 75 percent per week. The ability to substantiate overtime claims by comparing work time to GPS activity can quickly translate into significant employer savings and may reduce FLSA violations.

Since GPS technology allows for monitoring of vehicle speed, it can also assist in cutting down fuel costs by ensuring employees are following the speed limit and could decrease the number of accidents as drivers may be more inclined to follow the speed limit. In addition, by comparing time-stamped data in an employee's email or texts, GPS can also be used to allow employers to determine if a driver was texting or emailing while driving in violation of many state's laws.

In addition to employee compliance issues, a GPS system can also improve delivery and pick-up operations. For instance, UPS equips truck drivers with GPS hand-held computers to assist them in finding an unfamiliar location or to alert them if they are at the wrong address. The system also reports the time and address as soon as a package is dropped off, enabling UPS to identify the driver closest to a customer in need of assistance. …

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