Am I legally permitted to track the location of my employees using a GPS device on a cell phone or vehicle?

Monitoring employees through a GPS tracking system can raise serious issues with regard to California’s constitutional right to privacy and may be a violation of California’s Penal Code.

Knowledge of an employee’s off-duty activities may be a violation of the California Constitution’s right to privacy, since in most cases such knowledge is unrelated to an employee’s job performance and therefore not of concern to an employer.

Tracking devices on an employer-provided cell phone could easily be used to monitor an employee during nonworking hours. Even a tracking device on a truck provided to employees for use only during the workday may report an employee’s location while on an off-duty lunch break.

Some time-clock apps that an employee may install on a personal phone at an employer’s request have built-in GPS tracking systems of which the employee may not even be aware. Each of these scenarios raises the question of whether an employer is intruding into an area where an employee may have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

In addition to the constitutional concerns, California Penal Code Section 637.7 prohibits any person or entity from using “an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person” via a “vehicle or other movable thing.”

The law does allow an exception for vehicles when there is a written consent for use of the GPS device, but there is no similar exception for a “movable thing,” such a cell phone.

Before establishing any GPS monitoring of employees, an employer would be wise to consult with legal counsel.

For more information, read Monitoring Employees in the HR Library.