Employers have unprecedented access to their employees in today’s technology-infused workplace. There are tools to help you track everything from average clock-in and clock-out times to emailing habits. All of this increased employee tracking has raised important legal and ethical questions, though, especially when it comes to GPS tracking. 

While there are many legitimate reasons to track your employees both on and off premises, there are also many risks associated with it. In recent years, several states have passed GPS tracking employees laws to establish reasonable standards for both employers and employees. If you understand the different laws and guidance that apply to you, you’ll be able to track employees more responsibly and effectively.

The Benefits of Using GPS to Track Employees

GPS as an employee tracking tool has been used to address a variety of management concerns. The first step to using it responsibly is determining your reason for having it around in the first place. 

Verifying Employee Travel Expenses: Many businesses who have mobile employees will reimburse them for travel expenses that come out of their pocket, such as using their own vehicles for work. In order to do that, though, you need to track the miles they travel to ensure you’re reimbursing them for the correct amount. 

Improving Efficiency for Mobile Employees: Tracking employee travel reveals a lot about traveling habits, popular routes, frequent stops and average time spent traveling. With this data, you can better plan the routes employees take, optimize the time they’re spending on the road and eliminate unnecessary travel. 

Monitoring and Compliance: GPS gives you the ability to verify the accuracy of time records, ensure employees aren’t spending too much time out in the field on the clock and identify any violations with labor laws. GPS tracking tools can also help you enforce company travel policies, and if you do suspect a violation, GPS data can be a valuable asset in your investigation of misconduct. 

When GPS is used appropriately to monitor employees, the insights gleaned can help improve safety, operations, record keeping and even customer service. The keyword there is “appropriately”, though. 

The Legal Issues

It’s important that before you implement GPS tracking on vehicles and devices of any kind – whether they be company-owned or personal – you familiarize yourself with the privacy and GPS tracking employees laws applicable to your business. While there aren’t any federal laws on the books in the US, several states have taken steps to regulate the use of GPS by employers.

GPS Tracking Employees Laws: An Overview

One big question is whether you are using GPS to track company-owned property or employees’ personal property. Generally, employers are in their right to track activity on company-owned devices. In other words, if you provide smartphones or laptops to employees, you are allowed to track activity via GPS or IP address. This can even extend to devices taken off the premises or used in off-work hours. 

A 2014 Illinois statute supports this practice. According to the statute, it’s a criminal misdemeanor to use GPS to monitor the location of a vehicle without the vehicle owner’s consent. As the employer, you’re allowed to monitor a company-owned vehicle since you’re consenting to the tracking. However, an employer would not be allowed to use GPS to track employee-owned devices or vehicles without their consent. 

In general, employer-tracking of employee-owned vehicles or devices is more of a legal gray area. For example, a New York state court determined that installing a GPS device on a vehicle personally owned by a state employee suspected of falsifying time records was an unreasonable search. However, if the state had monitored the employee only during business hours, the court found that the search would have likely been lawful. 

When it comes to GPS tracking via employees’ smartphones, the law hasn’t definitively made up its mind, though the consensus typically is to not do it if you haven’t gotten consent from the employee. If you fail to get consent, you could be breaking state tort laws by invading their privacy.

Other states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware and Texas also have laws that specifically apply to GPS tracking, so it’s worth checking to make sure that wherever your business operates, you’re abiding by the law. 

A Few Rules of Thumb

If you’re thinking about using GPS to track employee movements, here are a few basic guidelines: 

  • It’s generally seen as appropriate to track any company-owned vehicles and devices during work hours.
  • It’s even better if you obtain employee consent.
  • It’s less clear whether you can track personally owned vehicles and devices. 
  • You should only monitor employees to the extent in which it’s necessary by your business. 
  • Make sure to consider whether the business need to monitor employees is greater than the accompanying risks. 

GPS Tracking Policies

Once you’ve made the decision to implement GPS, make sure any implementation comes with an update to company policies. You need a written GPS tracking policy that outlines the business needs of GPS, when it will be used, how employees will be monitored, and how you plan to protect GPS data from mishandling. In your policy, it’s also worthwhile to briefly explain the GPS tracking employees laws of your state, and what requirements you have as an employer to ensure privacy and security. If employees can be disciplined for disabling GPS tracking devices, this is also something you need to make them aware of in any policy. 

On the other hand, if employees at your company use personal devices and vehicles at work, you should create a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy if you haven’t already. If you intend to track employee-owned property via GPS, you must obtain consent beforehand. 

No matter what your GPS tracking policy ultimately says, be sure it’s communicated to all employees and that they both acknowledge and understand the information. 

GPS Isn’t the Only Solution

Aside from the legal questions that arise when tracking employees with GPS systems, GPS also comes with several other issues; it’s difficult to ensure you’re only tracking travel during work hours, it’s hard to verify whether all miles were really work-related and no detours were made, and these apps don’t seamlessly integrate with other processes such as accounting. 

SureMileage by CompanyMileage was developed using a different methodology: point-to-point trip calculations. Rather than verifying the miles driven, SureMileage calculates mileage expenses by finding the most direct route from point A to point B of any trip. The entire process is automated. Employees simply check in at the beginning and end of each trip, and at the end of each day, they use this data to submit expense reports. The process is easy, taking just a few minutes.

Our system manages approval workflows, so expense reports never get stuck along the way. Supervisors can also use SureMileage to monitor employee schedules and their time management throughout workdays. You can have the system flag activities such as submission of duplicated reimbursements or when mileage limits are exceeded, taking the onus off of supervisors to catch errors.

CompanyMileage builds a custom integration to your accounting and payment solutions, as well. That way, once reimbursement has been authorized, there’s no gap between that decision and payment being issued. The entire process will move along smoothly. 

CompanyMileage has taken the original concept of employee GPS tracking and addressed the existing flaws. The result is a system that not only allows you to manage your employees in the field and prevents you from violating any GPS tracking employees laws, it also saves you money along the way. Request a demo with us today and learn how SureMileage saves 20-30% on mileage expense reimbursement costs.