GPS Tracking Laws by State: What You Should Know When Tracking Employees

Aerial view of highway

Now that GPS trackers aren’t exclusively being used by law enforcement and private investigators, there’s more opportunity for employers to benefit from GPS technologies to improve their fleet business operations.

The rationale for using GPS tracking services is pretty cut-and-dry for most small business owners. You can increase your crew’s accountability, control vehicle costs, and improve employee safety. But what are the legal considerations — if any?

Technically, placing a GPS tracker on a vehicle counts as a search, which violates the fourth amendment outlined by the supreme court. Although the US government doesn’t include specific federal laws that relate to the use of GPS tracking devices by employers to track their employees, state governments do. As we all know, state laws vary and each has its own set of privacy laws to protect individuals and the use of their information—including specific laws surrounding the use of GPS trackers at work. 

Knowing the employee tracking laws in your state will help you stay on the right side of the law while operating your business.

Tracking employees versus tracking vehicles

In the area of GPS tracking, there’s an important distinction to be made between tracking people and tracking vehicles. Businesses have a clear stake in tracking company vehicles: to monitor and protect their owned assets. And while it’s employees who are operating the vehicles most often, directly tracking employees is rife with legal and moral complications.

So, before we dive into tracking laws, we want to make that important distinction: Force Fleet Tracking GPS vehicle tracking technology tracks the vehicle, not the employee. We don’t track where people walk, or what they do once they leave the vehicle. We only track the fleet vehicle, not the person driving it.

With that in mind, and being in the GPS tracking industry, we have some important insights on laws around tracking. Here are some best practices that will keep you on the right side of the law, maintain good favor with your employees, and protect your business interests.

It should be noted that the laws around tracking employees are different than the laws for tracking contractors. While it’s legal to track vehicles you own that are driven by employees, it’s not always legal to track vehicles you own when contractors are operating them. Each state is different and may require a whole new set of standards to follow that differ from the ones we’ll outline here when it comes to tracking vehicles operated or even owned by employees versus contractors.

Note: this article does not provide professional legal advice and you should seek the advice of a lawyer if you are unsure of the laws within your state.

  1. Understand civil & criminal laws in your state
  2. Have a GPS tracking policy in place
  3. Communicate openly with your employees

Understand Civil & Criminal Laws in Your State

Each state has its own take on legalities around GPS tracking and the verbiage doesn’t always make the difference between tracking vehicles and tracking employees clear. Here are a few notable regulations to be aware of: 

Required Consent

California has some of the most strict privacy laws in the country. There is legislation that forbids employers from tracking employees without informed consent. In this state, it is considered legal to install an electronic tracking device in company-owned vehicles, but you may also want to have the employees using those vehicles also provide their written consent as a best practice.

Vehicle Ownership

In contrast, in states such as Georgia, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri, laws are more cut-and-dry. Using a GPS tracking technology is very clearly legal if the vehicle is company-owned. This means, for example, that an employer running a cleaning business in Atlanta can use a GPS tracking device to track the location of their company-owned vehicles with no special paperwork. However, it’s unlawful to track employee-owned vehicles without consent.

GPS Tracking Laws by State

The laws around tracking vehicles are highly consistent across the country. While the wording varies state-to-state, the general rule is: if it’s a company-owned vehicle, then it’s legal to install a GPS device; if it’s an employee-owned vehicle, then employers must get consent. 

Here are the specifics for laws in a few key states:

  • Texas – During work hours, it is legal for employers to track company-owned vehicles, as was found in the case of Tubbs v. Wynne. However, if the employee owns the vehicle, then the employer must get consent to use a tracking device. 
  • New York – Using GPS to track vehicle location is legal when it’s company-owned. But, when a vehicle is owned by an employee, as in the case of Cunningham v. New York Department of Labor, you’ll need consent and are limited to tracking only within business hours. 
  • California – In California, the right to privacy is an express constitutional right. To track your employees in California, you first need to ensure it’s not in violation of any union agreements, tracking can only be done during work hours, written consent from the employee must be obtained, and you must have a documented tracking policy in place.
  • Pennsylvania – Like most states, when it comes to the right to privacy, employers are not allowed to use location tracking devices on employee-owned vehicles without consent. But employers can legally install a GPS location tracking device on a company-issued vehicle. 
  • Florida – For legitimate business reasons, an employer can use a GPS tracking device if the employer owns the vehicle. But for the sake of employee privacy issues, employers must get consent before installing GPS into personally owned vehicles. 
  • Illinois – For privacy issues, an employer is prohibited from installing tracking devices on  employee-owned vehicles. However, an employer is allowed to track company-issued vehicles.If you operate out of Illinois, we’ve created a complete guide that includes everything you need to know about GPS tracking laws in the state of Illinois.
  • Washington State – While this state is typically recognized as very liberal in its social policies, it’s fairly favorable when it comes to vehicle tracking. Monitoring location, speed, and movements are all well within an owner’s rights

Tracking your owned property — a company vehicle — is legal across the board, whereas intentionally tracking people is not (without consent).  

Learn more about Fleet Tracking systems >> How do fleet tracking devices work?

Have a GPS Tracking Policy in Place 

Armed with your new knowledge about GPS tracking laws by state and the difference between tracking people and tracking vehicles, it’s a good idea to draft a standard notice for employees that outlines your intended use of GPS tracking. 

Use simple, clear language so there are no misunderstandings. Your wording should also highlight how monitoring company-owned vehicles plays a key role in growing your business and keeping employees safe. When presenting the form for staff members to review and sign, take the time to speak frankly about your vehicle tracking system and why you use it. Be careful to let them know: you are tracking the vehicle, not the person

Communicate openly with your employees

You might face some resistance when introducing GPS vehicle tracking in your business. Employees don’t always welcome the extra accountability it brings. 

It’ll help if you explain that GPS vehicle tracking also benefits and protects the employee. Here are a few examples:

  • Traffic jams: Drivers now have proof that a traffic jam happened. They don’t have to worry about bosses wondering whether they’re giving false excuses about why they showed up late.
  • Driver safety: Many business vehicles have a sticker that says, “How’s my driving? Call 1-800…” Sometimes, people will call the number making unreasonable accusations against your drivers. With GPS vehicle tracking, the drivers will be off the hook.
  • Proof of service: When customers call the business claiming a driver didn’t show up, now there’s proof, giving your driver or technician the benefit of the doubt.
  • Driver safety: Accidents happen, and sometimes there is no one around to help. GPS tracking can help keep drivers safe if they’re operating outside of city limits or at night. If something happens and the driver is unresponsive, dispatch can send the necessary first responders and law enforcement to the vehicle’s location.

It’s understandable for employees to be resistant to GPS tracking. Making the distinction between employee tracking and vehicle tracking clear to everyone will help ease concerns. 

Can I Track My Employees’ Locations?

Generally, it’s not legal to directly track employees’ locations without consent, but you likely don’t want to do that anyway. Instead, shifting your focus from tracking employees to tracking company vehicles is the right, and legal, approach to managing your fleet. However, protecting and tracking your owned assets — your company vehicles — is essential!

Legally track your company vehicles

With Force Fleet Tracking, you can monitor your entire fleet with a smart, easy and affordable GPS tracking solution. Force is specifically designed for independently run, small to mid-sized companies — giving you all the information you need, and nothing you don’t

As an employer looking out for your investments, you get a window into the health of every company-owned vehicle in your fleet, which saves on repair costs. You increase productivity, safety, and you get so much more than real-time fleet tracking. 

Request a demo to see how GPS fleet tracking can help streamline your company and improve your customer service.

Published January 22, 2021
Matt Davis
Matt Davis
Director of Marketing
Force Fleet Tracking