Vehicle tracking can help to boost the efficiency and productivity of a business, especially in monitoring a driver’s location and managing a fleet from virtually anywhere. As well as providing valuable, operational data, employers may also look to rely on vehicle tracking information as part of a disciplinary investigation. Can a vehicle tracker be used in a disciplinary as evidence against a driver of either poor employee performance or misconduct?
How do vehicle trackers work?
GPS tracking devices come in a wide range of either professionally installed or self-install units that can be located in various different places of a vehicle including, for example, under the bonnet, in the dashboard or plugging the device directly into the onboard diagnostics port.
The GPS tracking system uses the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) network. This network of satellites emits microwave signals which are transmitted to GPS devices to provide information on things like location, speed, movement, stopping times and vehicle diagnostics.
The GPS tracking device then works in tandem with GPS fleet tracking software, where the data is transmitted by using a wireless or cellular network, providing real-time updates and alerts based on information sent directly from the vehicle. The historical information that is gathered from the device is also stored on a server.
The ability to track a driver and analyse driver behaviour can provide employers with a wealth of benefits. It can be used, for example, to better coordinate and track job completion, optimise driver output and route efficiency, and improve customer service. The data created by vehicle trackers can also be used to take steps to minimise safety risks, fuel consumption and vehicle depreciation created by speeding or other unsafe driving patterns.
What is the law on using vehicle trackers in the UK?
As the data collected when using vehicle trackers relates to the performance and even personal identity of drivers, issues surrounding privacy arise. If you plan to introduce fleet vehicle trackers, or are already using GPS tracking devices, it is important you understand your legal obligations in respect of both data privacy and employee rights within this context.
In the UK, the law relating to the use of data gathered from vehicle tracking is primarily governed by the provisions of the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018 surrounding the potential misuse of personal information, as well as Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 which protects an individual’s right to respect for private and family life, including employees.
While there are no express laws specifically relating to vehicle tracking, under the DPA and the HRA, employers must still respect employees’ right to data and personal privacy.
Data Protection Act 2018
Vehicle tracking systems generate data about the use of the vehicle by its driver, including locations, times and even driving habits. As the information provided by vehicle tracking systems can be linked directly to a specific named individual, and because the data has the potential to impact on an individual in either a personal, family, business or professional capacity, this data constitutes ‘personal data’ under the meaning of the DPA 2018.
In order to avoid allegations of misuse, this means that any information collected from a vehicle tracking device must be handled in accordance with the requirements under the DPA and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which the Act incorporates.
The DPA and GDPR set out certain rules on the collection, use and sharing of data about individuals, collectively known as ‘processing’. In particular, personal data must be processed fairly, lawfully and transparently, where you must usually have the data subjects’ permission. Data must also only be obtained for a specified, explicit and legitimate purpose, ie; where you have a clear business need for that information.
In the context of the collection of data using vehicle tracking technology, you must have:
- A valid and genuine commercial reason for introducing fleet vehicle trackers
- An open and transparent process when monitoring and tracking vehicle movements.
There are generally multiple reasons to support the use of fleet vehicle trackers, from increasing profitability to implementing anti-theft measures. You are allowed to monitor things like mileage, routes used, hours on the road, and even driver behaviour, as long as the vehicle is designated for business use and there is a business need for the data being collected.
However, even where the need for vehicle trackers can be easily justified for the benefit of the business, they must still only be used where your drivers are aware of and have agreed to the use of the tracking device. This is because employees have a right to know about any methods used to monitor them and when this is taking place. Tracking company vehicles without the knowledge or consent of those using those vehicles is illegal.
The collection of data using GPS tracking must also only be done during working hours. If private use of a business vehicle by employees is allowed, monitoring the movements of any vehicle when used in their own time, without the freely given consent of the user, will rarely be justified. If any attempt is made to track an employee’s movements outside of working hours without their knowledge, or to covertly track a vehicle at any time, will be classed as unlawful and for which you could face a hefty penalty under the DPA.
Human Rights Act 1998
The business benefits derived from using vehicle trackers should not be drawn from the fact that employers can track employee movements, but rather the ability to collect information about the movement and use of a fleet vehicle. Using GPS technology to monitor individual employees could be construed as a serious infringement of privacy, where Article 8 of the HRA provides that everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life.
In the context of using fleet vehicle trackers, the right under Article 8 is especially important when it comes to protecting an employee’s privacy outside of working hours. It is therefore important when installing any GPS tracking device that this has a privacy setting that will allow an employee to disable the device once they’ve finished work. This will not only help to protect their privacy, but also ensure that your vehicle tracking device is only used to track the vehicle itself, ie; for business purposes, and not the individual employee.
It is also important to bear in mind that even where a covert tracking device is legitimately used by an employer as a security measure, for example, for anti-theft purposes, where the chances of successfully recovering a stolen vehicle increase dramatically through real-time location, you must still inform your employees immediately and acquire their consent.
Can evidence from a vehicle tracker be used in disciplinary proceedings?
Even though it is legal for an employer to track their fleet vehicles, assuming those using the vehicles are aware of and have consented to the use of a GPS tracking device, it does not automatically follow that the data collected can be used to check up on those employees.
Strictly speaking, the data collected using GPS tracking technology should only be used for the business purpose for which it was collected, where using a vehicle tracker to monitor employee behaviour, even during working hours, can be classed as a misuse of personal information and a breach of employee privacy.
That said, the information gathered from a vehicle tracker can often highlight a number of potential issues relating to employee performance and conduct, including speeding, idling, time-keeping, job verification, unauthorised usage, or even actual hours worked versus hours claimed. The question is whether, and in what circumstances, this information can be used as evidence against an employee in the context of any disciplinary proceedings.
Where GPS data has been lawfully obtained, the fact that any subsequent analysis of that data has incidentally highlighted performance or misconduct issues does not amount to a breach under the DPA or HRA. Equally, relying on that data in the context of a disciplinary hearing does not necessarily amount to unlawful processing or misuse of personal information.
When considering the use of incriminating information against an employee collected through a vehicle tracker, much will depend on the nature of the allegations and the basis upon which the data in question was originally obtained. For example, if GPS data reveals excessive vehicle speeds, this is a matter for which an employer is entitled to collect data, where speeding impacts a number of legitimate commercial needs, including safety, fuel consumption, vehicle depreciation and even a company’s reputation. In these circumstances, the evidence of speed can be clearly used in support of an allegation of misconduct in the context of a disciplinary.
In contrast, where GPS data is used for an entirely different purpose for which it was originally intended, the position is less clearcut. For example, data collected to monitor vehicle location for customer drop-offs that is then used in a disciplinary as evidence of an employee collecting their children from school during working hours, is arguably a misuse of that information.
Still, where an employer stumbles upon evidence of misconduct in this way, this cannot be easily overlooked, especially where the employee’s actions amount to a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence owed by an employee to their employer. This will therefore involve balancing your rights as an employer against the freedoms of your employees.
However, having a clear policy and procedure in place for dealing with vehicle tracking data, ensuring not only that employees are aware of the use of vehicle trackers, but also making sure they understand how that data could be used, will provide you with a more clearly defined basis upon which you can lawfully use this data in the context of a disciplinary.
Company vehicle tracking policy
By implementing a written policy on the use of vehicle tracking data, you can inform employees that trackers will be used, provide an explanation as to why trackers are needed and set out the procedure for using this data in a disciplinary context.
An effective vehicle tracker policy should therefore contain:
- A detailed explanation of what a vehicle tracking system is and how it works
- The reasons as to why the company has chosen to use vehicle trackers
- The benefits of vehicle trackers to both the company and staff
- The precise nature of the data that you will collect
- The purposes for which collected data will be used
- Details as to how that data is protected and who has access to it
- The nature and extent of vehicle monitoring during working hours
- What private use can be made of a company vehicle and any conditions attached to this use
- The use of any privacy settings on the vehicle tracking device for use outside working hours.
Finally, the policy should make it clear that the purpose of a company vehicle tracking system is not to monitor the movements of employees. However, a clear explanation should also be included that where misconduct is either inadvertently revealed through data lawfully collected, or where allegations of misconduct are otherwise made that justify the further examination of the available data, this may result in disciplinary proceedings and sanctions.
There are various legal and HR issues that could arise when it comes to using a vehicle tracker, especially if you are seeking to use any data collected from a vehicle tracking device in the context of a disciplinary. In some cases you could find yourself facing a claim for misuse of personal information or breach of privacy, or even unfair dismissal where an employee has been dismissed for misconduct highlighted by use of GPS data.
By seeking legal advice, you can ensure that any use of vehicle trackers is lawful, and any subsequent use of the data collected from a vehicle tracking device is not in breach of your employee’s information and privacy rights.
DavidsonMorris’ employment lawyers are experienced in advising employers on all aspects of workplace disciplinaries and dismissals, including use of vehicle trackers in disciplinary proceedings. We can support you with advice to ensure a fair and lawful procedure is followed through any investigation stage and evidence gathering to minimise the risk of tribunal claims. Our specialist HR consultants can also support with conducting workplace disciplinary investigations. For expert advice, contact us.
Vehicle trackers & disciplinaries FAQs
What is the law on vehicle trackers?
There is no specific law in the UK on vehicle trackers, where the use of vehicle tracking devices is covered by the law regulating the misuse of personal information under the Data Protection Act 2018 and Human Rights Act 1998.
Is tracking employees by GPS legal?
Tracking an employee using a GPS vehicle tracker is legal, provided the employee is aware of the device and consented to its’ use. The employer must also have a legitimate commercial reason for tracking the vehicle.
Last updated: 12 May 2021