Employer issued smart phones and other electronic devices are
commonplace. One benefit of these devices is that they can
record and provide various tracking information. Service
providers and "apps" can provide location
information. Employers have good reasons to use these tools,
including loss prevention and monitoring productivity. Can
employers legally track employees' smart phones with GPS?
Elevator service company, KONE Inc., uses GPS on cell phones to
monitor the locations and productivity of its employees. Some
KONE employees complained about the practice to the BC Privacy
Commissioner, who held an inquiry. The adjudicator found
determined that KONE was collecting and using the GPS information
in compliance with the law: Order P13-01.
KONE has a mobile workforce. Mechanics generally work alone
and are paid hourly. KONE assigned particular cell phones to
each mechanic so the company could track the employees' work.
The particular program used by KONE allows each employee to set the
phone to "on duty" or "off duty." While on
duty, GPS information is sent to KONE's service provider but
that information is only transmitted to KONE when the mechanic
inputs a site departure. No information is transmitted when
"off duty." Once KONE has the information, it uses
it for a number of things, including: tracking locations of on duty
mechanics, and travel time; generating weekly reports; planning
routes; prioritizing work assignments; providing work updates to
clients; and contacting mechanics for safety purposes if the phone
has been stationary for more than 30 minutes.
In the inquiry, the adjudicator found that KONE's purposes
for collecting and using the information were reasonable to manage
the employment relationship. KONE has a legitimate interest in
knowing where its employees are during work hours, maximizing
efficiency for dispatching and routing, and ensuring employees are
working the hours for which they are paid. The adjudicator was
of the view that time recorded using GPS is similar to a swipe card
to record work attendance or being directly observed at a work
An important fact in this case was that the GPS information is
only collected by KONE when the employees set the phone to "on
duty." Thus, the adjudicator determined that the privacy
of the information was diminished. It also meant that KONE was
not collecting more information about its workforce than
necessary. KONE notified and educated its employees on the GPS
system and had appropriate privacy policies and procedures for
handling the information.
The employees argued that the collection and use of GPS
information for employee management is an offence to the
employees' dignity and detrimental to the employment
relationship. The adjudicator determined it was reasonable for
KONE to use the information for performance management, such as
where it demonstrated atypical activity and permitted the employer
to make follow-up inquiries to determine whether the mechanic is
meeting his or her employment obligations.
KONE is a valuable example for employers who have good reason to
monitor their employees' location and work using emerging
technology such as GPS. It provides some framework on the
parameters of an effective and compliant program. The result
probably would have been different had KONE not, for example,
reasonably limited the information it collected, had legitimate
business reasons for the program, and notified and trained its
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
A former teacher at Bodwell High School has learned a valuable lesson from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal— it is not discriminatory for an employer to offer child-related benefits to only employees with children.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).