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