Union Employers May Track Employees through GPS, Sometimes

A Company whose workforce is unionized lawfully terminated an employee after installing a GPS tracking device on the employee’s company-owned truck to assist a private investigator in following him. The investigator personally observed the employee operating his truck in an unsafe and illegal manner, failing to follow specified delivery times, stealing time, and falsifying his daily log. The GPS device even showed the driver’s vehicle resting at his home during work hours. After the employee was terminated, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge alleging that the Company unilaterally installed the GPS device and engaged in electronic surveillance in violation of labor laws.

Notably, the associate general counsel of the NLRB’s Division of Advice said the charge should be dismissed because the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the parties contains work rules prohibiting stealing time and requiring drivers adhere to federal regulations that they accurately account for their time. Further, the union was aware of, and did not object to, the Company’s practice of retaining a private investigator to follow an employee suspected of stealing time and using any results obtained through observation for disciplinary purposes. Since the GPS was only used in conjunction with the investigator’s observations, it was lawful.

Union companies everywhere should not interpret this single case as authority to stick GPS tracking devices on all of their vehicles. For now, this holding is limited to those facts described above.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.