An Ankle Bracelet for White-Collar Workers?

Frustrated with why projects are taking so long or what employees do with their time, managers have resorted to a cell phone app that tracks their whereabouts 24 hours per day. The app monitors an employee’s location so that employers can track what employees are doing and where they are doing it. Thinking about the technology, the app allows employers to know the following:

  • When employees arrive and depart

  • How long their lunch breaks are

  • Their locations when they are working – a particularly helpful but of information for employees who work from home

  • When they are driving and even the speed that they are driving

You can see how the app works here. Employers say that the software increases transparency and fairness in evaluating the effort of employees. They note that many managers are no longer used to accountability and transparency about their activities, but they too are subject to the monitoring. Employees feel that it violates their privacy. In fact, there is at least one suit pending that has been brought by an employee who calls the app she was forced to download on her cell phone akin to “a felon’s ankle bracelet.” David Streitfeld, “The 24-Hour Timecard,” New York Times, August 19, 2015, p. B1. Myrna Arias, the employee who has brought the suit, works for a money transfer company and objects to the 24-hour monitoring.

However, some employees welcome the change. One employee noted, “It shouldn’t be an option to just show up for work at 9:15.” For companies that must submit time accountability or allocations, the app has proven very helpful. For example, engineers assigned to projects would often just classify a full day’s work as “development.” What the app showed was that the engineers were in meetings, involved in personal time projects, and even doing research in areas where the client had the right to expect that the company already had. And some employers have noted that one of the positive effects has been more efficient use of work time and the ability to employees to go home earlier.

As technology develops, so also do its uses. The courts will be handling the challenges to these tracking devices. The courts have generally held that GPS tracking devices are reasonable for employer tracking. (See easier posts in this blog for discussion of the tracking of truckers and delivery drivers) However, the question that employees will have to ask is whether they want to work for a company that has the technology because consent for its use will be made a precondition of employment. Pending legislation in states such as New Hampshire would require employee consent.

DISCUSSION STARTERS

Explain the purposes of the tracking app.

Discuss the positive aspects of the tracking as well as the privacy issues.