Is GPS Tracking an Invasion of Your Employees’ Privacy?

It might sound like the preserve of James Bond or – if we’re being less glamorous – suspicious spouses. But the truth is that GPS tracking has become a staple in the world of business. Vehicle tracking systems, in particular, have proven themselves crucial to the smooth management of a business fleet, helping to keep fuel and maintenance costs down, efficiency and productivity up, and security airtight.

GPS fleet management devices often feature customizable maintenance alerts to help fleet managers address vehicle wear and tear before it translates to accidents on the road and costly repairs, anti-theft remote immobilization, driver safety and behavior insights, and other key features to help managers protect their employees and assets.

The catch? Well, in this online era of social media, creepily personalized ads, and – worst of all – data breaches, the notion of privacy is truly precious. And being tracked and monitored by your boss – well, that can feel like a gross violation. That’s why, if you plan to use a vehicle tracking system, you’ll need to draw a line between tracking your vehicles and tracking your employees, and stay on the right side of that line. Otherwise, you could find yourself in trouble with the law.

So, how exactly can you use a vehicle tracking system without invading your drivers’ privacy? The answer isn’t universal – each state addresses the issue with its own set of laws, which you’ll need to look into – but we can still offer some best practice advice that, if followed, will keep both you and your employees happy.

GPS vehicle tracking and employee privacy: The key questions

First off, let’s answer the burning questions you might have about using GPS to monitor your vehicles…

“Can I track my vehicles without my drivers agreeing to it?” 

Regardless of whether tracking without consent is legal or not in your state, trust us when we say that it’s always a bad idea. It puts you on a one-way street to losing your employees’ trust and receiving complaints of privacy invasion – finding out your boss has been tracking your activity without your knowledge is bound to feel grubby, right?

Plus, there’s no real reason not to tell them that they’re being tracked. If anything, the knowledge that you’ve got your eye on them should encourage your employees to work more efficiently and drive safer.

“Can I track company-owned vehicles that my employees also use in their spare time?”

All states are in agreement: As an employer, you’re well within your rights to track vehicles and devices that you/your company owns, and that your employees use to do their jobs. The legal precedent becomes murkier, though, when these vehicles are also used by your employees during their time off work. Whether or not you can monitor them during this time is a gray area – basically, it’ll depend on what your local laws say.

Usually, the best approach is simply to disable tracking during off-hours. Otherwise, you’ll be more vulnerable to claims of privacy invasion, because it’ll be possible to track an employee to a particular religious building, political rally, medical clinic… you get the picture. Invest in trackers that can be switched off by your employees, remotely disabled by you, or programmed to turn off automatically at certain times or locations.

Of course, if you’re set on keeping tabs on your vehicles 24/7, you can do so if your state permits it – but you’ll need to have a careful policy and restrictions in place. We’ll explain this more below, in our advice for tracking vehicles without invading employee privacy.

“Can I track vehicles that my employees own, but use for work?”

Tracking vehicles that you own may be fine, but tracking vehicles that your employees own – though they may use them to do their work with you – is questionable.

Often, you won’t be able to install a tracking and fleet management system in these vehicles. In states where you can, though, it’s often the case that your monitoring will be strictly limited to your employees’ work hours. Again, check out your local laws to confirm what you’re able to do. 

“Can I use covert vehicle trackers?”

Covert vehicle trackers are devices that you attach to the underside of a vehicle (rather than, say, the dash) so they won’t be spotted by thieves and stolen. These are usually fine – but make sure that your drivers know that they’re there.

How to track your vehicles without invading your employees’ privacy

So, what can you do to keep things legal? We’ve got four key rules of thumb… 

  1. Get familiar with your state’s laws

As we’ve said, laws regarding GPS tracking and privacy tend to differ from state to state. For example, in California, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, tracking your employees without their consent is explicitly illegal, whereas in other states it’s permissible (if inadvisable).

So, the first thing for you to do is investigate your state laws. Is it legal to track employee-owned work vehicles? What are the limitations on tracking your company-owned vehicles? Is it okay to track your employees when they’re off company premises, and during off-hours? You’ll need to find out before you go any further.

  1. Write a clear GPS tracking policy

Before you start monitoring your vehicles and drivers, you’ll need to pen a policy that sets out your tracking terms. This should include:

  • The reasons you’re going to use a vehicle tracking system
  • The data you’re going to be collecting from your vehicles, and how and when it’ll be collected
  • How you’ll use this data
  • How you’ll safeguard this data
  • The disciplinary action you’ll take if an employee disables or tampers with a tracking device (you’ll want to avoid a situation like the case of Myrna Arias vs Intermex)

Next, send the policy to all of your drivers. Ask them to read it, understand it, and give their consent to the tracking.

  1. Only monitor what you need to monitor

You should only be tracking the data that’s called for by a legitimate business need. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • Vehicle location and driving routes – There’s an obvious business need for this. It lets you give your customers accurate ETAs; find vehicles that have been stolen, broken down, or caught up in an accident; dispatch the closest driver when a new job comes up… we could go on!
  • Driving style – Keeping an eye on the way your employees drive can help you to minimize behaviours – such as idling, speeding, and harsh braking – that waste fuel and put your drivers at risk. A legitimate business need? Definitely.
  • Vehicle diagnostics – Alerting you when a vehicle’s due for maintenance or a repair, this helps you ensure your vehicles stay safe, carbon-efficient, and roadworthy.

Fortunately, a fleet management and tracking system will usually only record data – like the above – that you can use to boost your business’ operations or cut costs, and so won’t get you into any trouble… during business hours, at least.

You see, there’s a big difference between what’s necessary during business hours and what’s necessary during your employees’ time off. Being able to check in on a vehicle’s location if an employee reports it stolen on their day off is, arguably, necessary. Being able to look at the speed an employee has travelled at, and a record of all the routes they’ve taken, on their day off? Not so much.

If you’re feeling a little stumped, seek local legal advice to determine what you should or shouldn’t be monitoring, and when, according to your area’s laws.

  1. Safeguard the data that’s collected

You’ll need to make sure that the information collected by your tracking system is only visible to the members of your company who have a viable reason to see and use it. Put measures in place to stop the data from falling into the wrong hands, and being used for the wrong reasons.

Final thoughts

So there you have it – the answers to your employee privacy questions, and four top tips for ensuring you don’t invade anyone’s privacy.

Remember, effective fleet tracking and management is a good thing. It can help you to keep your vehicles safe and in great working order, dramatically cut your fuel and logistics costs, and supercharge your fleet’s productivity. As long as you’re doing it legally, responsibly, and transparently, you’re golden!

Author: Julia Watts

Julia is the Content Manager at Expert Market, a leading b2b publication that empowers businesses to grow and succeed. 

Having spent years immersed in the world of startup entrepreneurship, she now specialises in business energy, vehicle tracking, and fuel cards, helping businesses to optimise their operations.