Experienced Business Attorneys Helping Wisconsin Employers Navigate GPS Legal Matters

Once utilized only by the military, global positioning satellites (GPS) now provide all sorts of useful data regarding the activities of Badger State residents. Whether it’s a rangefinder that tells a golfer how far he or she is from the flagstick, an app that alerts a driver to snarling traffic conditions ahead, or a tracking device used to determine the relative safety or efficiency of a commercial driver’s habits, GPS devices and applications are now so common that they seldom draw attention.

It’s 10 pm; can a Wisconsin business utilize a GPS device to track an employee’s activities? As is the case with a host of legal issues, the answer depends upon the circumstances.

Benefits of Tracking Employee Movement

Transportation experts point to a number of benefits that can flow from GPS tracking. They include:

  • Monitoring overtime and compliance with various federal and state labor laws
  • Promoting efficient travel routes, speeds, and time spent on the road
  • Monitoring compliance with posted speed limits and other traffic-related issues

Wisconsin Criminal Law Covers Some GPS-Type Tracking

Wis. Stat. § 940.315 provides some protection when it comes to employer use of GPS devices. Generally speaking, while placing a GPS device on a vehicle owned or leased by another person is a Class A misdemeanor, an employer or business owner may track the movement or location of a motor vehicle that it leases or owns. Business owners should be aware that while a business or business owner may be immune from criminal liability if it uses GPS tracking for its vehicles, the practice could open the door to civil liability regarding claims of discrimination or invasion of privacy.

Get the Employee’s Prior Consent

Legal experts advise that the best practice for employers is to get prior consent from the affected employee if he or she is to be monitored. Get a written acknowledgement from the employee that he or she understands that any movement that utilizes the company vehicle is subject to being monitored. Moreover, if the GPS system provides other functionality, such as the ability to track speed, fuel consumption, and other driver behaviors, make sure the acknowledgment specifically addresses these issues.

Some GPS systems provide for video and/or audio surveillance. To the extent that your system generates that kind of data, a specific consent form should be signed by the affected employees. In a word, company policies should be clearly communicated that diminish the employee’s expectation of privacy while operating the company vehicle.

Separate Consent for Smartphone Apps

Wis. Stat. § 940.315 speaks to the installation of GPS devices in vehicles. The statute does not specifically address the use of apps or other software programs in smartphones or other devices that are not part of the vehicle. Again, prior consent is the key. If an employer can point to a release or other agreement that has been signed by the employee prior to the monitoring of location, etc., it will be on the firmest possible ground when it comes to a claim by the employee that his or her privacy or other interests have been violated.

Are Your Employee Monitoring Policies Up to Date?

Do you currently utilize GPS devices or smartphone apps to monitor the movement of company vehicles? Have you considered the privacy concerns involved with gathering and preserving that data? Collecting and accessing data without appropriate consent and without adequate procedures to guard privacy may violate state and federal statutes such as the Stored Communications Act, and may be further actionable as invasion of privacy violations.

The Milwaukee business litigation firm of Kerkman Wagner & Dunn has more than 50 years of combined legal experience representing business owners in Wisconsin in all sorts of business and employment matters, particularly those that involve litigation. We have strong experience with employment issues and understand how employee privacy concerns can affect your business. Our firm has big firm talent and provides small firm attention. Call us at 414-278-7000 or complete our online contact form.

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