Should employers be allowed to track the whereabouts of their staff?

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With the rise in GPS and tracking technology, we ask two business leaders if employers should be allowed to track the whereabouts of their staff are at all times? 

Yes says Andrew Overton, managing director of Verilocation, a GPS tracking and vehicle telematics company 

It shouldn’t be a case of being allowed to track staff; directors should feel compelled to know exactly where their staff are and that they are safe. Most employers really have no idea where field staff are until they miss an appointment. But the Health & Safety at Work and Corporate Manslaughter Acts have made directors personally responsible for the safety of lone workers.

The latest GPS technology is making devices smaller, cheaper, and more accurate. You can track someone using a BlackBerry or PDA. In-vehicle trackers can be connected to telematics systems to integrate vehicle and location data. Many tracking devices contain a remote panic alarm. In the case of an emergency, a field worker can send a silent plea for help with their exact location.

GPS tracking brings a host of other business benefits. Data is easily analysed using a normal internet browser. Mileage claims can be automated and the opportunity to exaggerate removed. General operations can be made more efficient, allowing for better journey planning and use of resources. Some haulage firms have found that by analysing what their vehicles are doing day to day, they can reduce the number of vehicles in their fleet and still provide a more efficient service to clients.

VeriLocation has had more than 100,000 mobile devices registered for tracking in the past five years, and has provided peace of mind for the individuals involved with no negative problems. Of course, if an employee ultimately doesn’t feel comfortable, they can always turn off the GPS tracking. @verilocation 

No says Alison Balchin, TUC Employment rights officer 

The presumption should always be no. Employees have a duty to their employer to do their job, but in return businesses should respect the basic privacy of their staff and only breach this for very good reason. Tracking can be justified, mainly on security or health and safety grounds, but there needs to be a good case for each exception.

Of course, monitoring can be justified—tracking security vans containing large sums of cash or dangerous prisoners, for example. There are legal obligations such as the need for tachographs that result in at least some degree of monitoring.

But staff do not like to be monitored, except for their own safety. It suggests a lack of trust—probably the easiest way to corrode a work relationship. Catching the odd person out will not justify the wide resentment from the majority of trustworthy staff.

With modern technology such as cctv and swipe cards making monitoring so easy, it can be tempting. But employers also need to be aware that it can breach the law. The information commissioner’s Data Protection Code says that monitoring of vehicle movements when a vehicle is allocated to a specific driver is covered by the law. Tracking and monitoring simply to monitor performance is unlikely to be legal, unless it is done with the agreement of staff. Covert monitoring, unless there is good reason to believe criminal activity is taking place, will always be open to legal challenge as will any surveillance of private spaces such as toilets and changing rooms.

So if you’re thinking of monitoring or tracking, make sure you can justify it, that staff agree, that they know how it will be done and that it is proportionate to the problem you are trying to solve. @TUCnews

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