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GPS tracking of employees fine, watchdog rules

Posted by on Jan 22, 2013 in HR Issues, Legal, Moneyville | 0 comments


    January 17, 2013

If you drive a company vehicle that has a Global Positioning System (GPS), the thought that you are constantly under surveillance may give you the creeps, or at the very least feel like an invasion of privacy.However, British Columbia Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham recently ruled that an employer had legitimate business reasons to collect and use GPS information from company vehicles driven during and outside business hours.The questions she considered were whether the B.C. Personal Information Privacy Act allows  Schindler Elevator Corp., to collect GPS data and use it to ensure employees don’t slack off during working hours, use vehicles for personal use or drive unsafely. The company which has offices in Canada and the U.S. ,including Vancouver, makes, installs and services elevators, escalators and moving walks.

Schindler’s mechanics use company vehicles to travel from their homes to job sites. Since 2010, the “Fleet Complete” system in each of these vehicles records location and movements as well as things like excessive speeding and acceleration.

Unionized Schindler employees in Vancouver filed a complaint with the B.C. Privacy Commission alleging that the company’s use of GPS technology resulted in the improper collection of personal information and was therefore a violation of their right to privacy. Mediation was not successful, so an inquiry was held regarding the complaints.

Related: When can employers use GPS to track workers?

Denham ruled  that recording GPS the locations is collecting personal data. However, she said managing productivity, hours of work and vehicle safety are legitimate business purposes.

She made a similar finding in regards to the company’s collection and use of engine status data – specifically, engine start and stop times. Because Schindler’s employees are paid by the hour, Denham said the company has a valid reason to track working hours for which they are paid. She also agreed that the former system of employee self-reporting was not as effective as the new technology.

Finally, she noted that Schindler complied with its own policy for GPS use and notified the union by letter regarding its proposed purposes for collecting, using and disclosing personal information.

In dismissing the union’s claim, Denham said she was particularly influenced by the fact that GPS-derived location information is not continuously monitored. If the company had engaged in continuous real-time monitoring of employees’ whereabouts during or outside work hours for employee management purposes, the case may have been decided differently.

Related: Should you let sites collect your credit card information

What can you do if you think your employer is violating your privacy rights by using a GPS to monitor your use of company vehicles?

Union employees may be able to challenge GPS surveillance as a violation of their collective agreement. Employees of federally-regulated workplaces and employees in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec can also file privacy complaints. However, Ontario and other Canadian provinces not mentioned above do not have privacy legislation or a privacy commission.

A January 2011 Ontario decision  might let employees sue for improper use of GPS or other privacy invasive surveillance technology. But realistically, it isn’t practical for individual
employees to challenge GPS use in the courts.

Related: Bank employee fined $10,000 for snooping on spouse’s ex 

Sheryl Smolkin is a Toronto lawyer and writer. Contact her through her website  and follow her on Twitter @SherylSmolkin.

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