Tracking the work locations of employees is easier and more affordable than ever. Insights gained from monitoring the location of team members can help improve safety, operations, record keeping, and customer service.

However, it’s important to keep employee morale in mind. Implementing new technologies at the workplace does not come without risk, as there is often no clear precedent — legal or otherwise — regarding their use.

In this post, we’ll look at some ethical and legal considerations to help employers construct an employee tracking policy for using GPS tracking apps that’s fair and beneficial to both companies and their employees.

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Table of contents

State laws on employee GPS tracking

U.S. states can have their own privacy laws that may influence what employers can do when it comes to employee GPS tracking for work purposes. That’s why it’s smart to first check existing laws in the area where your business operates.

Employee location tracking or monitoring laws can be tricky. For example, according to California’s Office of the Attorney General, employers are allowed to monitor their employees’ business phone calls and computer usage.

However, it doesn’t mention anything about location tracking, leaving it open to the employer’s interpretation.

While this may sound confusing, this isn’t an issue that employee consent cannot address. Getting your team’s consent to track them protects you against potential legal issues and streamlines the process of creating a good GPS tracking policy.

This rule also applies to countries outside the United States. In countries like the UK, location tracking is classified as an act of employee monitoring under the GDPR, which permits it, provided that employees have given their consent and have unrestricted access to their personal data.

However, GDPR also requires employers to:

  • Have a lawful basis for processing employees’ personal data
  • Be transparent about how and why the data is being processed
  • Avoid using it in a way that would be detrimental to employees

This aligns with the three principles of GDPR: lawfulness, fairness, and transparency.

Consent is central to monitoring laws in Canada as well. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act allows monitoring as long as employees have fully understood the monitoring policy and have given their consent to be tracked.

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Compliance: Tracking personal vs. company-owned devices

tracking personal vs company-owned devices

Employers are generally within their rights to monitor all activity carried out on a company-owned device. If you distribute work phones and laptops, your company can track them via GPS or IP address, for example.

This extends to company-owned devices taken off premises and during off-work hours, such as when the employee is at home. If you plan to use this type of location tracking, issuing company-owned devices is a safe bet.

Tracking employees’ personally-owned devices is not a clear-cut issue. Again, the employer should weigh a few important questions:

  1. Is the device being used for work?
  2. Is the device being used during work hours?
  3. Is the device being used on work premises?

If the answer to the first question is ‘no’, then you should reconsider using that device to track the employee. Even with consent, there’s little justification for an employer to track a personal phone or laptop that the employee doesn’t use for work.

If your company allows personally owned devices to be used for work, you’ll want to craft an appropriate Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) company policy.

If the device can access company servers, networks, data, and documents, it might be necessary to install some sort of mobile device management (MDM) software or work tracking app that allows IT staff to remotely monitor and, if necessary, wipe the device.

Compliance: GPS Tracking work vehicles

Employers can track the location of any company-owned vehicle used by employees. As with tracking company-owned phones and laptops, this can be done without consent, but it’s advisable to get consent anyway.

Tracking vehicles without the owner’s consent is explicitly illegal in several states, including Texas, Virginia, California, and Tennessee. Even outside of those states, employers would be ill-advised to monitor employees’ personal vehicles without consent using any sort of GPS tracker, as they might break broader privacy laws.

Another way to track GPS location is with a mobile app from a device that’s used for work. Mobile teams, field sales reps, and construction companies, for example, can monitor crew location to ensure team members are at job or client sites when they’re tracking time.

A geofencing time clock app such as Hubstaff can even automatically start or stop the timer when someone enters a work location, or send reminders to start or stop tracking time.

Compliance: Off-hours employee GPS tracking

A personally-owned device that’s used for work probably shouldn’t be tracked off the clock, but this will ultimately come down to getting consent from the employee, as well as the local laws.

MDM software certainly has the ability to report the device location at any time, but many also offer the option to disable tracking after employees clock out. Some states have imposed limitations on such tracking. California, for example, forbids employee tracking of “any movable thing.”

In 2015, Intermex Wire Transfers employee Myrna Arias sued her employer in California after she was fired for disabling the GPS app on her company-issued phone even after she clocked out. The case was settled out of court, so the legal precedent is still murky and open to interpretation.

Compliance: On-premises location tracking

On-premises employee tracking may not appear to be much of an issue at first. Employers know if an employee is at work or not. But GPS is just one way to track employee movements.

Security cameras, as mentioned before, have been around for a long time as a means to monitor staff. They need to be in plain sight, preferably with visible signs that inform employees that they are being watched.

Many employers hand out Fitbits and similar fitness tracking devices to promote a healthier workplace, but these devices also track movement and location. They also share data with at least one third party, Fitbit, which could lead to further privacy issues.

Earlier this year, reports surfaced of Amazon winning patents for wristbands that would track the movements of warehouse employees. The wristbands would communicate with equipment and vibrate if they put an item in the wrong place.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are microchips that can be attached to a person or their belongings in order to track them. Missouri, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have prohibited employers from requiring the use of such devices.

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Crafting an employee location tracking policy

When you present your location tracking policy to your staff, be sure to cover the following points:

  • Why tracking is in the best business interest of the company and employee – Explain the benefits of location tracking, such as reducing costs through route optimization, automating time tracking, and making sure employees get paid for their time accurately.
  • The nature of the tracking device(s) – Let team members know what kind of tracking devices you’ll be using to track their location and explain how these devices work.
  • What data you’ll be tracking and storing – Mention all the different types of data you’ll be tracking and storing.
  • How the data will be used – Be clear about how you’re going to use the data. Reassure your team that there will be no misuse of their data in any way.
  • How the data will be secured – Make team members feel better about sharing data about their location by letting them know that you’ll be doing everything you can to keep the data secure.
  • Who has access to the data – Explain who will have access to their data and reassure them that it won’t fall into the wrong hands.
  • If and when the data will be destroyed – How long do you plan on keeping the data? Are you planning on eventually destroying it? Make sure to include this information in your tracking policy.

As with any collection of work data, reminding your team how it can help the business and employees record their progress is key.

Most states in the U.S. do not have laws explicitly forbidding employers from tracking employee location.

With that said, communicating with your team about the type of tracking you use and why you use it can help clear up questions they may have.

Best practices for employee GPS tracking

Like everything else, there are right and wrong ways to do employee tracking. Each business has its own unique approach depending on factors like team size and industry. Here are some tried-and-tested tips to set you up for success:

Be clear with your intentions

Before anything else, ask yourself: why do I want to track my team?

If the answer is because you don’t trust your team, then you shouldn’t even think about doing it. Don’t forget: the reason behind tracking your team largely determines whether you’re operating within the law or not.

You have to have a sensible reason for why you’re going to track your team, whether that’s to increase your billing accuracy or to gain information on team performance.

Additionally, consider how the tracked data will impact the overall team dynamic. The ultimate goal of implementing employee tracking is to drive improvements in your business.

If there’s even a slight chance that it can do more harm than good, then you should go back to the drawing board and rethink your approach.

Obtain your team’s consent

At the heart of every effective employee tracking policy is consent. Even if the reasons behind tracking your team were compelling, it would never work without consent.

As the team leader, it’s your job to make sure that your team understands the policy down to the smallest detail. Leave no question unanswered.

Getting your team’s permission to be tracked is only step one. Knowing that you will track them is different from being aware while you’re tracking them.

Even for company-owned devices used on company premises, your team members should be fully aware that you’re tracking them. This doesn’t just go for location tracking; consent is also advisable for monitoring communications, files, web history, background checks, and mail.

Even if you’re not legally bound to get consent, doing so improves transparency and trust.

In general, you’ll want to include a monitoring consent clause in the employment contract or provide employees with a separate consent form they can sign.

Note that consent doesn’t always mean signing a contract or form. If you have security cameras installed at your office, for example, it might be sufficient to have a few well-placed signs informing staff that they’re under surveillance. Cameras should also be in plain view and not hidden.

Consent is especially important if you plan to track employee location during off- hours. To a lesser degree, you’ll also want to notify your team if you plan to track off company premises or on personally owned devices that are used for work.

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Hubstaff Field

Without the right software, employee location tracking can be much harder than it should be. This is why you should choose an app that not only offers the features you need but also works in line with your employee GPS tracking policy.

Hubstaff is a field service management software offers GPS tracking capabilities built in a secure and lightweight app. All your team needs to do is download the Hubstaff app to their smartphones.

This will enable you to:

  • See where team members are and which routes they take to reach a job site
  • Get notified when team members are late to a shift or miss their shift completely
  • Automate time tracking and generate accurate timesheets instantly

Hubstaff Field will only track your team’s activity and location if they start the app themselves, and they can easily stop the app from tracking them anytime they want.

The software gives employees complete control over their data — they can edit their time entries and delete their location data without requiring the approval of managers or administrators.

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What’s next?

Once your employee tracking policy is complete, the next step is to start implementing it. Roadblocks are perfectly acceptable as long as you’re working with your team to resolve them.

The first few weeks — or months, even — are often the most difficult. This is especially true if several of your team members have never had experience with being tracked before.

The key is to maintain transparency and honesty while avoiding unrealistic expectations. If you can do that, good results will naturally follow.

Frequently asked questions

  1. Can I track my employees?
    Yes, you can track your employees as long as they have given their consent. It’s best to obtain both verbal and written forms of consent, preceded by an extensive discussion on all the major points of your policy.
  2. Do GPS devices constitute an invasion of employee privacy?
    It depends on the usage. If you’re tracking your employees without their knowledge and consent, then yes, that’s an invasion of privacy. The best course of action would be to obtain your team’s consent and strictly comply with the GPS tracking policy that they agreed to.
  3. Can the company use a tracker against me?
    Companies are only allowed to use a GPS tracker if you agree to it. Ensure that there’s a policy that clearly defines tracking terms and limitations before giving your consent.
  4. Is GPS tracking prohibited in particular states?
    No, GPS tracking isn’t prohibited in any state. It becomes illegal if you do it to someone who isn’t aware of it or has not given their consent to be tracked.
  5. Do company laptops have GPS?
    Built-in GPS isn’t a common feature in most laptops, mainly because it doesn’t fall in line with their intended use case (i.e., in an office most of the time).

Nevertheless, it’s perfectly fine to ask the company if your work laptop has GPS, what it’s for, and when it’s operational.

Note: The author is not a lawyer, and this article should not be taken as legal advice.

This article was published in March 2020. It was updated in September 2021.

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Category: Field Workforce Management