By Duane Marsteller, The Tennessean
That company-issued cellphone, laptop or tablet could be keeping tabs on you away from the office.
More employers nationally are adopting technology
to monitor their employees' productivity, efficiency and even
whereabouts, with the scrutiny going beyond merely placing GPS units in
"Too much snooping is going on," said George Barrett, a civil rights attorney in Nashville. "Big Brother has arrived."
states have passed laws requiring employers to notify employees of
surveillance, but Tennessee is not among them, said Elizabeth A.
Alexander, a partner in Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein's local
"The law hasn't been fully developed on the issue of how far employers can go," she said.
That has left it up to the courts to set boundaries, but there have been few rulings.
most recent was in New York, where a split appeals court upheld a state
agency's secret use of a tracking device on an employee's personal car
to investigate whether he was skipping work and falsifying time sheets.
The employee is appealing.
are millions of company cell and smart phones out there, and all of
them have GPS tracking, so now your boss can track you every minute of
your private life," said Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, an advocacy group in Princeton, N.J. "It's happening now."
local labor and employment attorneys said they haven't heard of any
Middle Tennessee complaints as a result of high-tech tracking, but they
think the day is fast approaching.
Employee surveillance isn't new. Many employers now train closed-circuit cameras on cash
registers, monitor employees' email and computer use, and track their
vehicles - along with the drivers - via global positioning satellite
Employers say the technology makes operations more productive and helps lower operating costs.
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
uses GPS on buses and vehicles to track routes, analyze route times,
respond to reports of late buses and help substitute drivers who are
unfamiliar with routes, spokeswoman Olivia Brown said. It's also useful
when officials need to find a particular vehicle or person in an
emergency, she said.
That was the case when a bus was stolen last month: Officials used
GPS to locate it in West Memphis, Ark., where it had been abandoned,
But newer technologies allow employers to do much more, including:
Turning their employees' smartphones into mobile time clocks, which
employers can monitor and compare with other data to verify that
employees actually worked the hours they've claimed.
Using location positioning systems that combine satellite data, Wi-Fi
and cell phone signals and mapping software to locate people indoors -
even pinpointing what room they're in.
» Activating or uploading GPS-tracking applications on employees' smart phones and tablets.
Law trails technology
Just how many employers are doing that, and to what extent, no one really knows because there are no reporting requirements.
"There's no law that says it can't be done or that your boss has to tell you he's doing it," Maltby said.
partly because the primary federal digital privacy law hasn't been
significantly updated since it was enacted in 1986, he said. Although
there is "a serious effort" under way in Congress to update the law, the
proposed changes would largely apply to government and not private
Americans aren't the only ones wrestling with privacy issues and technology.
recently erupted in Sweden over some day care centers' use of GPS and
other electronic tracking devices to monitor children during excursions.
And a major Australian trade union launched a campaign last year to
curb companies' monitoring of employees during work hours.
But all agree it will probably continue as smartphones, iPads and other devices become more ingrained in everyday life.
a lot of cases, younger folks are less concerned about it," said
Stephen Montano, spokesman for Berry Tracking, which sells GPS tracking
apps for mobile phones. "It's when you get into an older generation,
where you find people who are not so keen on the idea. There's an
attitude shift going on."