The Legality of Tracking with GPS

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It seems that everyone is using GPS tracking technology these days for more than just getting around. GPS data has been used in cases involving spouses suspected of cheating, teens driving the family car, and employees driving company cars. Now, the legality of an employer tracking an employee through a GPS device, placed without consent on the employee’s private vehicle, is under consideration.

The Case in Question
An employee was fired from the New York State Department of Labor after twenty years when GPS data proved that the man was not always where he claimed to be or for the time he recorded. Over his two decades of employment, he had been disciplined multiple times for misconduct. Again in 2008, he was suspected of filing false work records, so his employer had him tailed.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) agency placed a GPS tracking device on the employee’s vehicle without his knowledge and tracked him for a month. The OIG then extracted the data relevant to the workday and found significant discrepancies in the man’s work log and his actual whereabouts. He was brought up on thirteen charges of misconduct, eleven of which were sustained by the GPS data. The man appealed the charges and claimed that his privacy had been invaded and that an illegal search and seizure had taken place. The case went to court.

The Court’s Decision
The court ruled in favor of the state and recommended dismissal of the employee. Two dissenters argued that an illegal search and seizure had indeed taken place since the man in question was tracked even during his off-duty hours, though that data was not brought into evidence. The final brief stated that “to establish a pattern of serious misconduct (i.e., repeatedly submitting false time records and not a mere isolated incident), it was necessary to obtain pertinent and credible information over a period of time. Obtaining such information for one month was not unreasonable in the context of a noncriminal proceeding involving a high-level state employee with a history of discipline problems who had recently thwarted efforts to follow him in his nonwork-related ventures during work hours.”

With the outcry over police using GPS tracking devices without a warrant being heard by the Supreme Court, employers would be wise to seek legal advice before pursuing the use of GPS technology when tracking an employee suspected of misconduct.

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Hillary Mayfield

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