Privacy breach | Firm reprimanded for secretly tracking employee's car movements

Firm reprimanded for secretly tracking employee's car movements
Firm reprimanded for secretly tracking employee's car movements

An employer acted unlawfully by secretly tracking the car movements of one of its employees, a watchdog has ruled.

The Jersey Office of the Information Commissioner (JOIC), the Island’s public body for data protection, found that civil engineering firm Brenwal had covertly tracked a worker’s movements in a company car over the course of one month, following concerns that the worker was “not devoting all of their time to work duties, during their working hours.”

The employee said they were totally unaware of the surveillance - which reportedly took place during working hours of 7.30am and 4pm– adding that they quit their job after making the discovery.

The JOIC report said the worker “was completely unaware that a tracker had been placed on their work owned vehicle and, accordingly, unaware of the potential implications on them e.g., that their whereabouts were being constantly monitored during working hours and that the information gathered from the tracker could potentially be used in the context of disciplinary proceedings.”

After the JOIC became involved, their investigation concluded that, whilst Brenwal had sufficient cause to monitor the employee’s activity and use of the work-owned vehicle, the circumstances were not sufficient to justify covert recording, nor did the reasons outweigh the employee’s right to privacy.

“Nowhere in any of the employer’s documentation was any indication given that employee’s use of the work vehicle (or their movements more generally) might be subject to surveillance of any kind” the report said.

It was also found that Brenwal’s data protection lead failed to have an appropriate level of expertise in order to advise the business on data protection matters.

The JOIC concluded: “Organisations can monitor their staff so long as this can be justified and there is a lawful basis for doing so. Monitoring staff can be intrusive; any monitoring needs to be reasonable, proportionate and not excessive.”
It added: “ Save for in extreme circumstances, organisations should make staff aware that the type of monitoring that is taking place, including where and in what circumstances, there may be potential for any covert monitoring.

“This is because staff are entitled to know what information is being collected about them and how it could impact on them. Or example, if trackers are placed on work vehicles, staff need to know that the trackers are in place and what is being measured (e.g. routes, hours of use) and why.”

No fine was handed out to the firm, but bosses were given a formal warning and issued several steps for improvement.

Suspicious bosses in the headlines

Bizarrely, this isn’t the first time news has emerged of a boss taking extreme measures to find out what an employee is up to.

In September, news emerged that an overly-suspicious boss was arrested after planting a tracker on the car of an employee as part of a long-running row over sick leave.

Shedding light on the situation, which occurred in Spain, media outlet Antena 3 reported that a man was arrested after the worker, who was off sick with anxiety at the time, found the GPS device hidden on the underside of his vehicle while he was cleaning it.

A Spanish court is now in the process of considering evidence and will now decide whether to proceed with criminal charges.

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In April, a company hired a private eye to tail a worker who was enjoying several alcoholic drinks a day while on the job.

The man, an electrician working for a company in Spain, was followed on several occasions by the detective, and was spotted buying and drinking alcohol multiple times a day. On one occasion he was even seen walking into a bar before 9am.

But a court has now ruled that the firm was wrong to dismiss the man because it couldn’t be proven that his drinking impaired his job performance. The court even said the soaring summer temperatures could also have been a valid reason for him to cool off with a refreshing beer (or several) during the work day.

Bosses must now give him his job back or pay him more than €47,000 (£42k) in compensation.

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