Suit questions use of app allowing 24/7 tracking of employee smart phones

Last modified: 5/17/2015 10:41:02 PM
When Myrna Arias discovered that her employer could track her movements even when she was off duty, she decided to remove the GPS-enabled app on her company smart phone that facilitated the monitoring. That got her fired, according a suit filed by Arias.

In the lawsuit, Arias, a former sales executive for international wire-transfer service Intermex, claims that her boss “admitted that employees would be monitored while off duty” and even bragged about being able to track her driving speeds. She was “scolded” for disabling the app and fired not long after, despite strong performance in her job, according to the lawsuit.

“She’s a salesperson, so she was required to leave the phone on in case clients had to call,” her lawyer, Gail Glick, said in an interview this week. Arias was fine with being monitored during the workday, Glick said, but “her objection was to the off-duty monitoring.”

Intermex did not respond to a Washington Post inquiry about the suit.

The privacy implications of such 24/7 monitoring “would be highly offensive to a reasonable person,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in a California state court earlier this month.

As tracking technology developed specifically for employers becomes more common, more companies are choosing to watch their workers’ every movement.

A 2012 study by technology research firm Aberdeen Group found that 62 percent of companies with so-called “field employees” were using GPS technology to track staff – a big uptick from around 30 percent of those companies in 2008.

Arias’s lawsuit raises critical questions about whether employers have the right to conduct such surveillance – and how far they can go.

Intermex, for instance, gave employees smart phones and told them to install Xora StreetSmart, according to the lawsuit. The app, which is available through Apple’s iTunes and Google’s App Marketplace, costs employers roughly $1 per day per employee, according to Xora’s website. Employees can use the software to clock in and out of work and to fill out forms. But it also tracks their movements.

ClickSoftware, the company behind Xora, did not respond directly to questions about the GPS monitoring features of its software or whether the program stops tracking workers when they clock out.

Many other apps provide similar services. The TSheets mobile time-tracking app also collects employee location information, for instance, but the “GPS turns off when the employee clocks out,” according to the company’s website.

Arias wasn’t allowed to turn off the phone when she was off the clock to avoid being tracked, according to the suit.

“Employers have legitimate reasons for monitoring their workers, but all too often we see that kind of tracking spilling over into the private parts of their lives,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Federal and state laws do not offer many guidelines for when it is appropriate to track employees, he said, but the constant monitoring can reveal incredibly personal details.

“When you know everywhere someone’s been, you know a lot about their lives,” Stanley said. “You know not only where they work and live, but who their friends are, who their lovers are, what doctors they might visit and their specialties, what sexually oriented establishments they might visit – the list just goes on and on.”

That opens up the possibility of discrimination, Stanley said, adding: “What happens if an employer doesn’t like the choices a worker makes in their personal lives and retaliates professionally?”




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