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Is it Legal for an Employer to Spy on Employees?

Is it Legal for an Employer to Spy on Employees?

Firefox Mobile

Cell phone tracking is a rapidly growing industry that is becoming popular among business owners as well as startups. It allows them to keep track of their workers and ensures maximum productivity. Some entrepreneurs, however, are not sure about the legality of spyware and are concerned that it might expose their company to a lawsuit.

What is essentially meant by cell phone tracking is the monitoring of all the activity taking place on a mobile phone through the use of a tracking software like mSpy, with or without the permission of the phone’s user. There are many spy apps available for all leading mobile operating systems that are used for this purpose, and the more advanced ones come with monthly or annual charges. These apps record all the incoming and outgoing data in the phone, including calls, SMS, MMS, e-mails, communication via instant messengers, and GPS locations. All of this information is uploaded to an online server, from where it can be accessed by the customer after logging in.

With the help of tracking software, entrepreneurs can find out the arrival and departure times of their workers in the office, how long they use their cell phones during work hours, with whom they are communicating and where they hang out during ‘recess.’ This is to ensure that they come and leave on time; that their work is not being affected by idle texting or chatting on their phones; and that they are not connecting with suspicious individuals who could be agents from or employees of rival companies. Also, employees might be on a vacation during sick leaves, and by tracking their GPS location, their boss can question them about it. In the transportation industries, GPS tracking can help locate which truck driver is closest to a certain site so he can be called over immediately. This technology therefore serves a greater purpose besides breaching a citizen’s privacy. Unfortunately there are many cases in which employers have deliberately accessed the personal data of their staff members that is not related to work, with the matter having been taken to the court.

The legality of spyware is not straightforward and the use of spy apps continues as more and more startups managers are finding them useful. However, it could be considered an invasion of privacy if the entrepreneur is tracking his/her workers without their consent or knowledge, or if there is evidence that he/she has intruded into their personal lives for no valid reason. Sometimes the employees are using laptops or cell phones provided to them by the company, in which case the employers have an excuse: that they are tracking the equipment, and not the person.

One of the first lawsuits over the use of GPS tracking by an employer was a Missouri case, Elgin v. St. Louis Coca-Cola Bottling Co., which took place in 2005. The bottling company installed GPS devices in their employees’ vehicles in order to investigate a theft. Since the employees were allowed to use those vehicles while off-duty as well, one of the drivers who had been cleared of suspicion sued the employer for violating his right to privacy. The court ruled that since the company owned the vehicles and the GPS tracking did not reveal anything other than what was already public, i.e. the location of the vehicle, the act did not constitute any significant invasion of the employee’s privacy.

In Connecticut, there is an Electronic Monitoring Act under which all employers are required to inform their workers of any electronic monitoring being carried out in the workplace. Electronic monitoring is defined as the Act as the collection of information regarding the activities or communications of the employee within the confines of the work area. This is to allow them comfort in private places, such as locker rooms and restrooms. In this light, GPS tracking of public vehicles, even without prior notification, does not violate the Electronic Monitoring Act, owing to the fact that the surveillance is being carried out in the open and not in a private area.

Although there is still ongoing debate over the use of tracking software and devices, an entrepreneur should make sure that whenever any such surveillance is being carried out, it should be in the interest of his/her business and not for any personal reason.

Image credit: CC by Johan Larsson

About the author: Katrin Deres

Katrin Deres is a passionate blogger, and works in a marketing team at a mobile tracking company. For more information visit mSpy.

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