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Can Monitoring Company Vehicles Drive Safety?
 

By Stephenie Overman  7/8/2014

Employers often monitor company-owned vehicles for safety and efficiency, but need to remember that if they’re going to keep track of drivers, they must add or amend communications policies to cover the intrusion on workers’ privacy. 

Most employers already have policies that cover situations in which employees are given access to other company-owned electronic devices, said David Lichtenberg, a partner at employment law firm Fisher & Phillips. When installing systems such as Global Positioning System technology to track company vehicles and drivers, it’s wise for the employer to ensure its electronic communications policy covers the new equipment. Clear policies can reassure employees and help prevent lawsuits, Lichtenberg said, noting that laws in some states restrict employers’ ability to track workers. “It’s similar to any monitoring. Tell people ‘we’re watching,’ and make them aware.”

United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) prides itself on using its delivery vehicles as “rolling laboratories” to collect data to improve both mechanical and employee performance.

UPS vehicles are equipped with telematics—the integrated use of telecommunications and informatics—that report on various parts of the engine, allowing maintenance to be performed as needed, instead of on a set schedule. The information also is used to monitor driver behavior and to make delivery routes more efficient. For example, “parcel delivery services have tracking devices so they can see how fast people are doing deliveries. If a driver is slower than usual, [the company has] the right to discipline,” said Lichtenberg.

Philippe Weiss noted that “employees cannot expect privacy in the workplace” and said that although employee consent to the use of tracking systems is not necessary, it “carries a certain amount of weight.”

Weiss, who is managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work, a legal compliance and workplace communications company, advises clients to post the policy in a number of places, such as on employees’ travel schedules, and to have the employees acknowledge that they have received the policy.

It’s not only important to have a policy in place, according to Weiss, “it’s equally—if not more—important how you communicate that policy.” Straightforward communication helps avoid the specter of “big brother” watching over workers.

“If employees hear about it the wrong way or don’t hear from you, it can be a morale issue and possibly a liability. … Don’t hide the fact that you’re tracking,” Weiss said. Instead, remind employees that “they are being monitored by managers all the time. What’s happening when tracking occurs is not different. It’s not about the individual, it’s about the organization.”

Also, Weiss said, “make sure the system is error-free. We’ve had some cases where it wasn’t,” and “include the idea that the information will be kept as confidential as possible. Confidentiality goes a long way toward ameliorating concerns.” Weiss recommended turning off the system when employees aren’t on the job.

Lichtenberg agreed. “If employees are tracked 24/7, that’s a problem,” he said. There’s no reason employers would have to be able to justify tracking when employees are off duty, according to Lichtenberg. “You might find out that an employee is going to some political rally or hospital or something else that the employer has no business knowing. Carte blanche tracking is where you could start to get into trouble.”

Small Scale Monitoring

Companies don’t need to have large fleets of delivery trucks and armies of drivers to find telematics useful. Total Environmental Restoration Solutions (TERS), a New York-based service for fire and water damage, has 10 vehicles and 24 full-time and 40 part-time employees, according to Gary Shaked, president and owner.

When TERS began monitoring employees about three years ago, “their driving behaviors improved immediately. We’ve had almost no speeding tickets,” compared to an average of two tickets a month before the system was installed, according to Shaked.

Drivers now also make fewer unnecessary stops, keep better distance between vehicles, and are able to avoid traffic snarls and accidents, he said.

“The fact that they know that somebody is looking at them, that we know when they start the engine, means they know not to waste time. It helps a lot. It’s a very good tool to use,” Shaked said.

TERS has a written policy, included in the employee handbook, which covers the company’s use of telematics. “We share with them all information,” he said, to help employees understand how and why the system is used.

Stephenie Overman is a freelance writer based in Reston, Va.

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