Is 24/7 employee tracking even legal?

It’s a question that has probably been asked with every technological advancement ever conceived. Just because we can do something, does it mean we should? The answer, as is so often the case, is probably that it depends. No one would argue that man’s control of fire or the invention of the wheel has been bad thing. But can the same be said about the development of atomic weapons?

These days, the digital age opens up a whole new set of possibilities for changing the world. But some of them seem to warrant posing the question once again. For example, just because GPS capability in our cellphones make it possible to track our every move, should it be something a company should be allowed to do?

That question appears to be at the heart of one California woman’s lawsuit against her former employer. She is claiming that the company violated her privacy by insisting that she keep a GPS tracking app active on her company-supplied smartphone at all times.

When she complained about being tracked during her off-work hours, her boss told her to tolerate it. When she erased the app from her phone out of concern for her privacy, she says she was scolded and then fired. So in addition to her claim of invasion of privacy, her suit alleges she suffered wrongful termination under the California labor code.

Is such tracking by the company even legal? California is one of several states with laws on the books that make it illegal to use mobile tracking devices to track others. But the line can blur depending on the situation.

As the National Law Review recently noted, employee tracking using GPS isn’t an issue that’s gotten a lot of legal action to date. But in most of the cases heard so far, tracking of company-owned devices has been found to be OK if proper notice to the user has been given and consent obtained.

But the review article also says there’s a need for balance between the reasonableness of the intrusion and the employee’s right to privacy during non-work hours.

Perhaps this latest suit will go some way toward settling the question. What do you think?

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