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A Tough Call: Agree To Be Spied on... or Get Fired

According to recent Ernst & Young research, emerging use of technologies presents huge privacy risks , but the privacy regulations fall behind. We can see this gap in the workplace environment. An employee's privacy is hardly protected anymore.

Let us look closer at this issue.

To keep an eye on workers, companies increasingly make use of an app for employee time tracking. The aim is to improve productivity, evaluate workers' job performance and reward people accordingly. These applications often go beyond simple timetracking, offering such features as GPS-location. 62% of companies with field workers are already using GPS for tracking employees, the Aberdeen Group study found in 2012.

From Workplace Efficiency to Privacy Violation

Imagine a company that sends engineers to research and repair hardware failures in client offices. When these engineers arrive at client's premises they clock in by sending a selfie from their smartphones to the corporate system. The selfie comes with GPS-location so the system registers exactly who and when attended the client. Simple and efficient, isn’t it?

But what if your time-tracking app goes a little bit further? What if it tells your boss what routes you took at the weekend or what pub you dropped in after having completed your job assignment? How can we draw a privacy line that technology can’t cross under any circumstances?

The lack of privacy standards can completely screw up a worker's life. Like in the recent case of the former Intermex sales executive, who was simply using an app for employee time tracking.

Employee Monitoring 24/7

As a saleswoman Myrna Arias was asked to keep her corporate phone on 24/7 in case any client needs to reach her. Besides, she was also required to install an app that would allow her to clock in/out and send her real-time location info to the corporate system.

Arias got fired for deleting the app after she had found out that the app continues to track her location off-duty. She then filed a lawsuit claiming the privacy violation and mentioned that her boss even “bragged that he knew how fast she was driving at specific moments ever since she had installed the app on her phone”. Arias compares the app “to a prisoner’s ankle bracelet” and believes that her boss's actions were totally illegal.

Future of Apps for Employee Time Tracking

Myrna Arias case is still open. Let’s leave it for the Superior Court of California to decide whether there was a breach of law. Most importantly, this is an area of concern for all of us, as the tracking software clearly won't be quitting the stage in the nearest decades. Especially if we take into account such trends as remote working.

Today, we can see that workplace privacy issues are addressed by different institutions. Many US states have introduced laws regarding individuals' tracking, and a EU Committee has published a guide for employees on privacy protection. Looking forward, we have to admit that the borderline between work and personal life is going to become less distinct, not least because of the technologies we are using. Same tools and devices are being used both for work and private matters.

To make the use of corporate tracking app legal — and ethical, — further steps need to be taken:

  • Define a corporate policy for employees' monitoring.
  • Assure the compliance of your policy with local law regulations.
  • Limit location tracking to working hours, so that the GPS feature will be turned off when an employee clocks out.
  • Inform employees about the existing of location tracking apps and their terms of use.
  • Receive express consent from your employees.

Summing it up. It is critical for an employer to have a transparent and approved monitoring policy. This way, a company will be able to meet business objectives without privacy violation and transform a time-tracking software into a revenue driver.

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