Here’s Why Your Employer Is Allowed to Track You

Philip Bates 25-06-2015

A US sales executive is suing her former employer after they allegedly fired her for deleting an app used to track her, a case that has raised some interesting questions about the divide between accountability and privacy.


Facebook spies on you What Does Facebook Know About You? Why You Should Delete Facebook What does Facebook really know about you? One thing's for sure: if you want online privacy, Facebook is best avoided. Read More – even if you don’t have a profile It Doesn't Matter If You're Not On Facebook: They're Still Tracking You A new report claims the Facebook is tracking people without their permission. It doesn't matter if you don't use social networking service: they're still watching you. What can you do about it? Read More . Google spies on you Five Things Google Probably Knows About You Read More . The Government’s surveillance tools are advancing all the time Tomorrow's Surveillance: Four Technologies The NSA Will Use to Spy on You - Soon Surveillance is always on the cutting edge of technology. Here are four technologies that will be used to violate your privacy over the next few years. Read More . It’s pretty obvious that your employer spies on you too.

But are they actually allowed to…?

An Ankle Bracelet For Employees


Myrna Arias particularly objected to being monitored when off-duty using Xora, so uninstalled it in late April. She was then fired on 5th May.

Founded in 1999, ClickSoftware, creator of Xora, offers efficient management ideas, notably GPS based around Google Maps How Does Google Maps Work? Google Maps is used by millions of people every day and you might be one of them, but how does it actually work and how does Google maintain its accuracy so well? Read More , so employees can be tracked in order to eliminate the need for timekeeping equipment, calculate estimated arrival times, and identify the correct and quickest routes. This is available for free on Android and iOS, while upgrades also include transmitting job receipts.


According to the $500,000 lawsuit, Arias’ manager at Intermex supposedly “bragged that he knew how fast she was driving at specific moments ever since she installed the app on her phone.”

She says that not only was this an invasion of privacy – especially as she was required to keep her phone on 24/7 to answer calls from Intermex clients – but also that firing her for removing the app was in violation of several labor codes. She furthermore likened it to a prisoner’s ankle bracelet.

ClickSoftware, meanwhile, says Xora should only be launched when employees “start their day”, that it’s not meant for day-long tracking. However, Xora may have a “clock in/out” function, but that doesn’t disable its GPS.

Of course, it is possible to deny any app’s permissions to track locations iOS 5 Battery Drain: Save Some Juice With These Top Tips [iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch] By now you’re either in love with iOS 5, Notification Centre and vastly improved page rendering times - or you’re banging your head against a brick wall wondering why your device no longer lasts a... Read More without completely uninstalling them (even on Android How To Turn Off GPS In Private Places Using Tasker [Android] With the plethora of amazing gadgets people own these days, it's really easy to overlook privacy concerns which, upon reflection, are quite obvious. One of the simplest of these is geotagging photos. While it's an... Read More ).


We’ve got to wait to find out how this case develops, but it does raise questions of how far a firm can go to keep tabs on its employees, and what constitutes invasion of personal privacy.

When Can You Be Spied On?


Mark Weston of law firm Matthew Arnold & Baldwin told the BBC that an employer:

“would not be allowed to track an employee without the consent of that employee… In the US, things may be looser because many employees there are employees ‘at will’. Accordingly, employers have far greater flexibility than in Europe to dismiss an employee who is not playing ball.”

If surveillance were without your knowledge, it would, in most cases, be unlawful, but employers still have the right to monitor you in certain situations. In the workplace, they can record you on CCTV (with obvious exceptions like toilets – unless there’s suspicions of drug dealing taking place), point of sale information (i.e. till activity), and listen to phone calls. In the UK, the storage of these records is all covered by the Data Protection Act.


So, too, is tracking your Internet usage: what sites you frequent, and emails you send and receive. A study by the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College revealed that most employers allow a certain amount of personal Internet usage, but only at a “reasonable” level. This obviously accounts for NSFW sites, but the actual definition is often a gray area.

Of course, there are conditions. This monitoring cannot be in secret and there must be justification for it, notably preventing crime, checking for unauthorised (i.e. private) use, and making sure the correct procedures are adhered to.

Much of this is stated in the reams of handbooks, notes, and contracts you’re given at induction.

But they should only track you during working hours. Many employers with engineers on the road choose to keep tabs on where their vehicles go, but that should stop after a working day. Unless, that is, if the vehicle is owned by your firm –  in which case, management can check you’re not using it for private purposes for liability, insurance, and taxation reasons, and prevent crime. The Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Alan Butler confirmed:


“When an employer is tracking their employees’ movements completely unrelated to any work function, that is completely inappropriate… An employer is not justified in firing an employee simply because they don’t want to submit to 24/7 location monitoring.”

However, he further clarified that “we don’t have any comprehensive legislation, certainly not on the federal level, in the United States dealing with location tracking issues.”


Regardless, employers are accustomed to not only reading emails but also SMS messages on pagers. Things get more complicated in America, though, as individual states have different laws, governed by their own state labor departments; if a state doesn’t specifically address workplace privacy, courts have to weigh up your right to privacy, and the right of your employer to account for your working hours.

But what if you work from home?

It depends on whether you’re using a laptop provided by the company, or using their intranet though a Virtual Private Network (VPN) The Best VPN Services We've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, grouped by premium, free, and torrent-friendly. Read More . Your activity with either can be recorded and tracked.

What Can You Do If You’re Not Happy?

You might not be happy with the level of surveillance at your workplace, but what can you actually do about it?

You could, of course, talk to those in charge. Employers have to inform you about monitoring, and the techniques used have to be as non-intrusive as possible. If you can think of a better and more viable way, suggest it to them. Be sensible though: it would naive, for example, to think a sales assistant isn’t going to be monitored for what they do at the checkouts.

It’s also worth checking your contract to see what surveillance is covered by it, and if you think something is omitted something, speak to a union representative.

And When Should You Be Tracked?


In short: yes, your employer can track you – but only under certain conditions.

They can track your Internet usage, emails, and phone calls. But this surveillance can’t be concealed, and you have the right to know what records are being kept and why. You can still complain, but if it’s lawful, it’s like shouting into the wind. Worse than that, it could have serious consequences for your career.

So when is it okay for an employer to keep tabs on their employees? How far is too far? Do you personally object to how your employer spying on you? How hard is it for employers to justify surveillance on their workforce?

Image Credits: One Nation Under CCTV by Carolina Alves; CCTV by Alexandre Dulaunoy; What Are You Looking At by nolifebeforecoffee; and she spy by Kangrex.

Related topics: Online Privacy, Surveillance.

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  1. Anonymous
    June 29, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Face facts most of America is slave labor we just don't consider it since we get paid money instead of a roof over our heads and a chicken in our pot. Somehow if we get to determine how slave labor wages are spent it's not slave labor but I assure you it is. Your time and skills are very valuable and they couldn't make the money they do without you. A general strike is what needs to happen to remind them who really holds the keys to the city.

    • Anonymous
      June 30, 2015 at 4:50 am

      That reminds me of an old joke I heard years and years ago, an oldie but a goodie. Here goes:

      Who’s the Boss?

      When the Lord made man, all the parts of the body argued over who would be boss.

      The brain explained that since he controlled all the parts of the body, he should be boss. The legs argued that since they took man wherever he wanted to go, they should be boss. The stomach countered with the explanation that since he digested all the food, he should be boss. The eyes said that without them man would be helpless, so they should be boss. Then the asshole applied for the job. The other parts of the body laughed so hard at this that the asshole became mad and closed up.

      After a few days…

      The brain went foggy, the legs got wobbly, the stomach got ill, and the eyes got crossed and unable to see. They all conceded and made the asshole boss.

      This proved that you don’t have to be a brain to be boss…

      Just an Asshole.

    • Anonymous
      June 30, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      In 1933 you could get a $20 gold piece from a bank for twenty silver certificates of $1 ea. That was all real money. Constitutional money.

      Gold today is off/down at 1171 US Federal Reserve Dollars per ounce. That means the Federal Reserve's fiat dollars are worth one penny and seven mils in real silver certificate dollars--pennies of course were copper, so no silver for you!

      Ergo, a person being paid $40,000, in fiat dollars, per annum is working for $34.16 in real dollars each year. $50,000 is $42.70 in real dollars. (The switch from real money to Federal Reserve fiat dollars was fabricated by the of The People--to steal people's wealth. Nothing more was intended; no greater pursuit was envisioned. This fakery also resulted in forcing families to have two income earners to survive. Therefore, in a very real sense, equality for women forced them into the slave market too.)

      The average McDonald's cashier makes $8.43 fiat per hour. If she got 40 hours per week--which she does not so McDonalds can avoid having to giver her healthcare--that is 16,860 fiat dollars per year. In real dollars, she is rolling money at $14.40 (FT) per year. W-O-W!!!

      Governments and mega-corps don't measure wealth in worthless fiat dollars (as you can see they are worthless, supra). The S&P 500, in real dollars, is at $15.70 on yesterday's close.

      So you tell me, is it slave labor in the USSA [sic] as opined by Todd?

      PS. Don't blame me; you voted for the S.O.B.'s.

    • Philip Bates
      June 30, 2015 at 8:12 pm

      I agree with you to some degree: we've all valuable skills and if everyone suddenly stopped, so would the country - maybe the world. But on the other hand, time should be accounted for. You can't get paid and expect to sit back and do little. For one, it would be unfair to those working their guts out and still getting paid as much as someone twiddling their thumbs. Tracking might be a bit far in some aspects, but then again, you wouldn't expect to be allowed to go on adult sites, for example, during work hours. There's a reason they're called NSFW.

      And organising a mass strike might be difficult. I'm sure many would be incapable of that often-quoted pi$$ up at a brewery.

      • Anonymous
        July 1, 2015 at 2:16 am

        You don't need ankle braclets and cell phones to account for time. All you need in reality is a piece of paper that you write down the time you come and go and have your boss initial.

  2. Anonymous
    June 27, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    i don't care when your off the clock your off the clock and on your own free time. and if you are being watched while off the clock. then you should get paid for being on call. which is half the salary of whatever you make. it varys in different states i hope she wins her law suit.......