Should your employer be able to keep digital tabs on you? Yesterday I had lunch with my brother. As soon as we sat down to eat he handed me a brand-new BlackBerry Bold he received from his employer a few days ago and asked me if I could turn the GPS off on it.

Back story on my brother My brother is middle-management for a pretty large nationwide US company which doesn’t require him to be tech-savvy at all (and obviously he really isn’t). Part of/all of his job is to visit a variety of different locations during the day, and to make sure all the people below his pay grade have done their job up to snuff. He’s a salary employee, and just oversees a certain amount of people and the work that they have done. In theory, it shouldn’t matter how long he does his job, just that he gets it done, and gets it done well. He’s a smart guy, and probably works 12-15 hour days, 6 days a week…pretty sure he’s doing his job, and in the end being under-paid for it.

is the first company-issued phone he has received. The company held a meeting of all the people in his position (around 50) to talk about the phones, introduce an application that they could use on the phones to streamline their work, and to scare them.

In the meeting he was told that he had to keep the phone on him and powered on at all times. The phone would supposedly be used by the company to track where he was, as well as when he arrived, and how long he spent, at certain locations. He wasn’t allowed to turn the phone off, however, even during his off-hours at home, although he doesn’t work on call. Based on the meeting he had (where supposedly he asked questions) his employer was essentially requiring him to wear a GPS-tracking device 24-hours a day in the form of a BlackBerry Bold. Didn’t exactly rub him the right way.

Employed by Big Brother? Based on my understanding of my brother’s job (which I’m obviously not disclosing here) my guess is that their 24-hour surveillance isn’t likely to happen. I think the mention of tracking employees all the time was said in an attempt to scare those who might have been doing a mediocre job into doing a good one, assuming that they didn’t understand the follow-through that would have to happen on their employer’s part to actually make good with this stalker promise. I was able to turn the GPS off on my brother’s Bold in a few seconds, and showed him how to do it again should it happen to pop back on. While they could potentially make good on this promise, I think it was an empty threat.

Reasonable request? While I think we’ll all probably agree wearing a 24-hour tracker is an unreasonable request for 99% of professions, do you think his job was in the right for wanting to track him while he works?

On a basic level it can be nice to know where your employees are during a work day. Heck, I even like having a general idea where Sean, Jon, and Noah are hanging out during the day and I’m not in any way their supervisor. Knowing where your people are can help you plan better, and manage your staff more efficiently. In the case of my brother’s job, tracking can help you figure out where people may be milking the clock, or even where the people below him are doing such an awful job he has to spend tons of time with them to help them get things on track. While I showed him how to turn it off, I’m kind of on the company side when it comes to using it. If you’re “on the clock” on a job that requires you to visit locations – they should be able to know when you’re there.

Tracking tales
GPS tracking isn’t something that is just being used in the working world. Last week, a California school district announced it would be tracking kids who skip school via GPS. Those who accumulate more than four unexcused absences in a school year are given a GPS device that they have use to check in 5 times a day. The idea is that by holding kids accountable they’ll be less likely to skip school in the future, and less likely to get involved in gangs. Not to say the children in question wouldn’t just pay a classmate $5 to carry the GPS for them while they downed a 40 in a gutter somewhere, but the idea is there at least.

What do you think about employers having the ability to track the location on their employees. or schools to track the location of students? Do you think tracking is fair, or is it taking things too far? Is there a difference between tracking a minor in school, and an adult at work?