‘Big Brother’ or good business? A comparative study on workplace GPS tracking between Canadian and US employees

When it comes to workplace surveillance, technology is redefining how employees are being managed. A global GPS study shows that 1 in 3 employees has had to use a GPS tracking app at work, suggesting that it’s fast becoming, if not already, a workplace norm. In fact, Canadian employees trump other nations for GPS use at work, with 39% of respondents followed by the U.S. at 32%.

For startups going global or just looking to become more data-driven and data-informed locally, workplace surveillance can be a fine line to tread. But how true is the notion that employees see no good in GPS tracking for work? Whose side is the law on? And how does Canada differ (or not) from its southern neighbour?

What do Canada’s laws say about workplace GPS?

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is Canada’s privacy law. Implemented in 2001, it specifies how businesses must handle personal information. It also outlines the conditions by which workplace tracking and monitoring are legally permissible. According to PIPEDA, prior to implementing GPS tracking in the workplace, employers must:

  • Have a clear, accessible policy, in both English and French, that outlines their justification for using GPS tracking.
  • Obtain “express consent” in writing from their employees.
  • Ensure employees understand what is being tracked and why.
  • Ensure that tracking stops after working hours.

It is important to note data collected from workplace tracking can never be used to measure performance or as an employment management tool. Furthermore, every province and territory in Canada has a commissioner or ombudsperson overseeing the provincial and territorial privacy legislation. But all businesses that operate and handle personal information across provincial or national borders are subject to PIPEDA, on top of applicable local legislation.

Reality and perception of workplace GPS

In the survey series conducted by TSheets involving four countries and 2,500 employees, the common thread in the data reveals the stark difference between the perceived versus actual reactions toward GPS tracking at work.

Respondents in both Canada and the U.S. who have used a GPS tracking app for work reported a “positive” or “neutral” experience, but for those who have not used GPS tracking at work, there is an assumed negativity, with 55% of Canadian respondents giving the experience a thumbs-down. The same reaction is found among U.S. employees, where 38% anticipate not-so-pleasant contact if their employer were to introduce GPS tracking at work.

The top employee concerns aren’t what you’d think

The notion is that employees balk at the idea of workplace GPS tracking due to privacy concerns. But data from the TSheets survey reveals “battery use” to be the top distress for both Canadian and U.S. employees who have used GPS at work. For those who have not, being “micromanaged” was Canadian employees’ biggest worry, while “data use” reigns supreme for U.S. employees.

Top Employee Concerns with GPS Tracking at Work
Canadian Employees
Have used GPS at work Not used GPS at work
Battery life Micromanagement
Lack of trust Invasion of privacy
Invasion of privacy Tracked after work
U.S Employees
Have used GPS at work Not used GPS at work
Battery life Data use
Data use Battery life
Invasion of privacy Invasion of privacy

How employees react to workplace GPS

Among the respondents who have used GPS before, both Canada and her southern neighbour reveal a very low percentage (4%) of employees who actually tendered their resignation as the result of GPS tracking being introduced at their workplace.

Over half (54%) of Canadian employees did nothing, compared to a lower 33% in the U.S. Less than a quarter (20%) of Canadian employees spoke to their manager about it, while 39% of their American counterparts did the same. A tenth of employees in both countries contacted their union representative, with 2% threatening to quit in each nation.

Employees’ reactions when GPS tracking

was introduced at work

  Canada U.S.
Did nothing 54% 33%
Spoke to a manager 20% 39%
Spoke to a union rep 10% 10%
Discussed it with colleagues 10% 12%
Threatened to quit 2% 2%
Quit job 4% 4%

Not all doom and gloom

“Tracking travel time and mileage” was identified as the No. 1 benefit of workplace GPS in both countries. This is also the only area in which those who have used GPS and those who have not are in agreement. Employees also credit GPS tracking for improving accountability and ensuring timely reimbursement, as well as heightening safety and efficiency.

Top 5 benefits for Canadian & U.S. Employees
Have used GPS at work Not used GPS at work
Better mileage and expense tracking
Improved accountability
Ensure timely reimbursement
Improved efficiency

An engagement opportunity

While Silicon Valley is still the startup mecca, Canada is thriving and creating its own “Narwhal Club”. Applying GPS tracking features responsibly can help to increase efficiency and productivity while ensuring compliance and boosting profitability for the business. Data suggests that employees are more receptive to monitoring that will ensure their accountability and safety, without compromising their personal time or data.

A transparent policy and work culture around the use of GPS in the workplace will help everyone involved understand their rights, take part in the processes and manage their expectations. Done right, the technology is a win-win for all.

About the Author

Prior to becoming a global copywriter for TSheets by QuickBooks, a time tracking and scheduling solution for small businesses, Dottie Chong spent 15 years in marketing communications and content management focused on driving engagement and brand affinity.