Ever wonder what your employee is really doing with the company truck when he returns to the office thirty minutes late and blames it on traffic? Did you hear about the employee at a major package delivery firm who was arrested last year for selling cocaine out of his company truck while on his delivery route?

With the growing sophistication of business operations, employees are increasingly given access to valuable and sensitive resources. Employers who aren’t paying attention are at high risk for misuse by their employees.

Think of all the data on your computers. How many of those computers are laptops? How many of those laptops go home with the employees after work? More than 70 percent of computer crimes are not the result of hackers. They are inside jobs. An inside job is easy when you have the computer in front of you in the comfort of your own living room.

What about Internet usage? Ever wonder what your employees are really doing behind their monitors? Thirty percent of all employee Internet activity at work is not business related. In fact, 60 percent of all online retail purchases happen during normal business hours.

What is an employer to do? Increasingly, they are turning to surveillance tools. The major package delivery company mentioned above is using telematics. Telematics is a software suite employing GPS and over 200 on board sensors to track vehicle speed, oil pressure, how often the vehicle is put in reverse, what doors are open and when, the time the truck spends in idle and how often the seatbelt is worn.

Software packages that track employee use of computer resources are plentiful. This software can encrypt computer files, document every time the data is accessed and record how the data is used. Internet spy software can track employee Internet use and alert the employer to questionable activities. In other words, it’s fair to ask the employee how fifteen visits to eBay is “work related.”

Employer Surveillance Trends

According to the “2007 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey,” conducted by the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute, 66 percent of respondents monitor Internet usage and 65 percent use software to block certain websites such as pornographic material, social networking and sports sites.

Nearly 45 percent monitor employees’ e-mail, while 40 percent hire people to manually read it. Another 45 percent monitor phone calls and nearly half use video surveillance cameras to watch for theft, violence and sabotage.

Additionally, 8 percent use GPS to track company vehicles, 3 percent use GPS to monitor cell phones and less than 1 percent use GPS to monitor employee ID/Smartcards. However, because of the potential for having to deal with workplace injuries and the fact that they are not always at the jobsite, contractors may be more interested than other employers in monitoring the whereabouts of their employees. 

Legal and security risks are driving more employers to monitor employees. “Concern over litigation and the role electronic evidence plays in lawsuits and regulatory investigations has spurred more employers to monitor online activity,” said Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute. “Data security and employee productivity concerns also motivate employers to monitor web and e-mail use and content.” But surveillance has limits. 
Advantages of GPS Systems

Beyond minimizing legal and security risks, the use of tracking devices in vehicles and cell phones offers concrete savings to employers. And employees—at least, the honest ones—can benefit from the use of GPS devices by increasing their efficiency and decreasing their down time.

Also, GPS devices can offer a solid return on the bottom line. For example, with a GPS device, drivers can receive very specific directions to a location, saving time and gas. Such devices also come in handy when traffic conditions or road closings require drivers to use alternate routes to reach their destinations.


Restrictions on Employee Monitoring

In some instances employers can monitor employees without their consent. In many jurisdictions, the law still lags behind the technology, and there are some legal gray areas when it comes to monitoring employees. In several states, though, there is no debate—employee surveillance is illegal without employee consent. Currently, two states, Connecticut and Delaware, require employee notification if an employer is using electronic surveillance. Connecticut, California, Rhode Island and New York have laws on the books regarding an employer’s use of video surveillance. Generally, federal law allows employers to monitor work-related use of telephone, e-mail and other communications. Some unions have also raised the issue of GPS and other types of employee monitoring in contract negotiations. It is a mandatory subject of negotiation where a collective bargaining agreement is in effect and the monitoring affects the union-represented employees.

In any case, if a company is considering installing employee surveillance devices, it makes sense to check applicable state laws to see what restrictions exist in your particular state.


Even if the law allows employers to use surveillance methods without employees’ knowledge, it’s always wise to alert and educate employees about the fact that they may be monitored. The deterrent effect can help—employees will be less apt to take unauthorized breaks, leave work early, visit inappropriate websites or otherwise engage in unacceptable behavior if they know such behavior could be, or in fact is, being tracked.


Surveillance technology also carries a sense of “Big Brother is watching,” and it can lead to ill will among employees, which may eventually take the form of potential legal claims. By creating reasonable policies and educating employees about them, employers can go a long way toward allaying employee concerns while enjoying the benefits of monitoring technology.

Employers should develop specific and explicit policies on employee monitoring, whether it involves e-mail, cell phone use or GPS tracking. The policy should remind employees that company vehicles, computers and any company-issued communication devices belong to the employer and are to be used for work-related purposes. Companies should also make it clear that they reserve the right to track employees to the extent legally permitted.

It may also be wise to spell out what is acceptable personal use of company equipment, and draw a clear line regarding what is excessive or inappropriate. It is generally not realistic, and may be legally unenforceable, to prohibit all personal use of phones, the Internet and the like during work hours. Even if employees may not legally be entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy while driving company vehicles on company business; strict, inflexible policies are likely to have an alienating effect.

Once a company has developed a policy, educating employees about the policy and the reasons for surveillance technology is the next step. If employees understand why monitoring devices are being used, they are more likely to accept them. Education on the topic should be ongoing, according to the American Management Association (AMA). “Most employees receive policies regarding use of office business tools and privacy issues on the first day of employment, but too often they don't read them. Employers need to do more than hand over a written policy,” said Manny Avramidis, senior vice president of global human resources for AMA. “They should educate employees on company expectations and offer training on an annual basis.”

Companies should also consider having employees sign a consent form when they are first hired or when a monitoring program takes effect. This protects companies in case an employee threatens legal action over invasion of privacy or some other matter related to monitoring.

Employee monitoring will become more common as technology improves and costs for surveillance continue to decrease. Contractors should certainly consider the potential advantages they could reap from surveillance technology in company computers and GPS systems in cars, service trucks and cell phones. At the same time, employers should bear in mind that the law is evolving, and it makes sense to research what is legal in each state.