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The Boss Is Remotely Monitoring Blue-Collar Workers 228

Posted by timothy
from the course-and-scope-of-employment dept.
McGruber writes "The Wall Street Journal reports on the new level of surveillance available to bosses of blue collar workers. Thanks to mobile devices and inexpensive monitoring software, managers can now know where workers are, eavesdrop on their phone calls, tell if a truck driver is wearing his seat belt and intervene if he is tailgating. 'Twenty-five years ago this was pipe dream stuff,' said Paul Sangster, CEO of JouBeh Technologies, a Canadian company that develops tracking, or 'telematics,' technology for businesses. 'Now it is commonly accepted that you are being tracked.' In the U.S., workplace tracking technology is largely unregulated, and courts have found that employees have few rights to privacy on the job. No federal statutes restrict the use of GPS by employers, nor force them to disclose whether they are using it. Only two states, Delaware and Connecticut, require employers to tell workers that their electronic communications — anything from emails to instant messages to texts — are being monitored."
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The Boss Is Remotely Monitoring Blue-Collar Workers

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  • Protip (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 24, 2013 @01:56PM (#45227021)

    If you are using hardware or services provided by your employer, your data is not private and you should have no expectations of such privacy.

    • Just sayin'.
    • by clickety6 (141178)
      Last time I use the toilet at work then...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 24, 2013 @01:58PM (#45227027)

    http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

  • Well yeah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:00PM (#45227067)
    I should hope so. I mean it's not your truck, it's your boss'. It's not your computer and desk, it belongs to your boss. Etc etc. Of course the employer has the RIGHT. Now there's the ethical dilemma - how to use this information for more than just trying to "catch people" in impropriety, how to make the workplace better rather than make big deals about an accidental swear word or comment, etc. Misuse of this technology can and will affect employee morale rather sharply. Errare humanum est. The watchers are going to have to tolerate SOME degree of slack...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Oftentimes it is used as a way, an excuse to get someone fired and a H-1B hired. In the truck category, this is especially true with truck drivers where it takes no training at all to get a Mexican CDL, so US workers tend to be brushed aside for people who will work for virtually any wage south of the border.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      What if you're the sort of person who gets distracted by errant profanity? The boss catching such things would indeed make your workplace better, in your opinion. Similarly, a fleet mechanic's job would be easier if the fleet's drivers were more cautious, and marketing's job is easier if the executives aren't engaging in impropriety.

      It ultimately boils down to what kind of company it is. Is the management so paranoid about imperfection that they'll fire someone for minor problems, or are they friendly enoug

    • I should hope so. I mean it's not your truck, it's your boss'. It's not your computer and desk, it belongs to your boss. Etc etc. Of course the employer has the RIGHT. Now there's the ethical dilemma - how to use this information for more than just trying to "catch people" in impropriety, how to make the workplace better rather than make big deals about an accidental swear word or comment, etc. Misuse of this technology can and will affect employee morale rather sharply. Errare humanum est. The watchers are going to have to tolerate SOME degree of slack...

      Precisely.

      Now I wish all this stuff actually resulted in getting rid of bad workers. A couple of years ago I worked in a coffee plant, in packaging. We had cameras all over the place, yet when we had down time and were supposed to be cleaning our machines, etc. certain employees would congregate to chitchat. Not being a supervisor, it was really no skin off my nose, and I was a temp to boot. Only real annoyance was when they gaggled around MY machine when I was trying to clean up. Every bit on camera

    • Re:Well yeah (Score:5, Interesting)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:25PM (#45227367)

      I mean it's not your truck, it's your boss'. It's not your computer and desk, it belongs to your boss. Etc etc.

      It's the companies laptop. In your home.
      It's the company's truck. After hours.
      It's the company's phone. On a private call.

      Misuse of this technology can and will affect employee morale rather sharply.

      Right. Because nobody who's morale dropped enough to complain was disciplined. Anywhere. Ever.

      I'm sorry, but this is a classic example of where government regulation is needed. Companies have the privilege (not right!) of monitoring their employees. Just like your driver's license isn't a right to drive: It can be revoked. Employers need to be held accountable for overstepping boundaries of reasonableness.

      Go ahead and record e-mails, but if it doesn't directly affect the business it should be deleted and no further comment made. Direct managers should be prevented from monitoring their employees electronically -- instead a separate department such as HR should do this, so as to prevent bias. Phone calls should not be monitored once the employee is off the clock. If they have a problem with this, remotely disable the phone at the appointed time. Same with computers with internet access, and other dual-use devices. Keep in mind many people use their personal phone for work-related calls, and likewise with laptops and other electronic devices. Remote evesdropping when you are not actively engaged in company business should be prohibited.

      And to seal the deal, we need federal legislation to drop the ban-hammer on so-called "right to work" state legislation; The laws should be written so only conduct which directly impacts the company, while using company resources, can be subject to disciplinary action. In other words, if you don't like JP Morgan's shady business strategies (which led to the subprime mortgage crisis), you should be free to protest on your own time without fear of reprisal.

      We need to draw a line that says only conduct that happens on company time or using company resources is subject to any disciplinary action. We need to prohibit employers from taking action against employers punitively on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identification, etc. And this is not just about protecting "the little guy"; This is about protecting the country as a whole.

      Merit-based employment and strong non-discrimination policies provide a direct and immediate benefit to society by making as many jobs available to as many qualified candidates as possible. It increases labor supply, and rewards companies who hire on the basis of merit with a more competitive and efficient labor force.

      Pervasive electronic monitoring is a strike against that goal. I will tell you, being on the other side of the IT version of the 'one-way' glass, that if you watch anyone long enough, you'll find a reason to hate them. You will become judgmental, and you will look at them differently. Which is precisely why managers should never under any circumstances be allowed to covertly monitor their employees. There is no "if" about morale suffering; It starts deteriorating the moment you start.

      And managers are notoriously short-sighted, poor judges of character, and often blow things radically out of proportion when they do come across something hinky. Just like the general public did during the hunt for the boston bomber. People who are not trained and experienced in surveillance, who are not impartial to the people being watched, should never, ever, ever be given the reins. Disaster is most often the result.

      • by Sarten-X (1102295)

        And to seal the deal, we need federal legislation to drop the ban-hammer on so-called "right to work" state legislation; The laws should be written so only conduct which directly impacts the company, while using company resources, can be subject to disciplinary action.

        I don't see what disciplinary action has to do with being forced to pay a union for permission to work in a particular industry.

        • I don't see what disciplinary action has to do with being forced to pay a union for permission to work in a particular industry.

          Since it's clear you haven't actually read the law, "Right to work" allows an employer to fire you for any or no reason, excepting federally-protected reasons (like sexual orientation, sex, race, etc.). It means that any employment contract signed that stipulates a mediation or resolution procedure before an employer can fire you is rendered unenforceable.

          Removing right to work is a necessary first step in restoring merit-based employment decisions, instead of arbitrary ones.

          • Re:Well yeah (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Sarten-X (1102295) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @03:35PM (#45228309) Homepage

            Even without explicit "right-to-work" laws, that's already the case in any state that has at-will employment, which is a separate issue. As for reading the law, yes, I did actually read the law that as proposed for my state, which was just one of several dozen proposals over the last decade. It had no provision effecting at-will employment.

            I'll also argue that enacting right-to-work laws is a major step along the way to merit-based employment, rather than basing job placement on who's been feeding the union coffers the longest.

      • It's the companies laptop. In your home.

        If it's personal use, why aren't you using your own computer?

        It's the company's truck. After hours.

        Why are you driving the company truck for personal affairs outside of company time? This one, there is a *small* degree of leeway in favour of your argument, but generally our employees who have a company vehicle leave it at the company lot at the end of the day and have their own transportation to get to/from home. A small number of them dispatch from home, and park the company vehicle in their driveways overnight, but it's still really bad juju

        • If it's personal use, why aren't you using your own computer?

          Possibly because a personal laptop can do work-related activities just fine, and many in fact prefer using their own devices over what is company-issued. Nonetheless, many pieces of software allow remote monitoring regardless of who owns the equipment.

          Why are you using a company phone to make a personal call? Especially in this day and age, when almost everybody has a cell phone....

          Possibly because the company allows personal calls as they don't cost anything on a "everything" plan. Possibly because carrying two cell phones is inconvenient. Possibly because you are making business calls using a phone that you own and pay for but use prim

          • I live in a country where states are allowed to pass so-called "right to work" legislation and then fire people on the basis of those things, and as long as they do not admit this as the reason for the dismissal, it is perfectly legal. So you can see where I might have a problem with some of these statements you're making; You're operating under false assumptions -- they may be true where you live, but not where I live.

            I believe whatyou're describing is "at will" employment, Right to work is usually related to union membership

        • by Sarten-X (1102295)

          There's a company near me that has company cars for all managers above a certain level. They're encouraged to drive it for personal use, partly because there's a big logo on the side, and partly because the managers participate in an ongoing marketing campaign.

      • by mmell (832646)
        What part of this do you really believe the U.S. Government can make better?
      • Just like your driver's license isn't a right to drive: It can be revoked.

        Uh, no. If that argument worked then we would have no rights - no right to life because of capital punishment, no right to vote because most states don't let prisoners vote and some don't let ex-cons vote, etc, etc.

      • Sooooooo...

        We're a distributed work force. I use my personal cell phone for company business and receive reimbursement that covers about 2/3 the monthly cost. Amusingly, about 4/5 of its usage is business-related. I have a vehicle allowance, but I pay all upkeep, fuel that is not explicitly work-related, registration, and insurance. When I need to print out work papers, it's on my personal printer, and I receive no reimbursement for it. Nor am I reimbursed for my internet usage, and I do use it (a very, ver

    • Ten to one the above comment was made during working hours.

  • Er ist gut to work in workers paradise!

    I am so glad we live in a police state where we are tracked and followed everywhere, and where we have always been at war with East Asia.

    Silly privacy - only good for whiny people - strong workers need no rights ...

    • None of this involves the state at all. Nice job completely missing the point.

      If you don't want to be monitored, don't take a job that involves operating equipment owned by someone else.

  • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:07PM (#45227171)

    This isnt remotely surprising.

  • UPS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:08PM (#45227187)

    We use software purchased from UPS to track our drivers. Their company cell phone has the UPS app, which relays data back to the server (including GPS). Of course, being on a phone and not built into the vehicle, it's dependent on the driver taking the phone with him or leaving it in the truck. However, it still managed to catch a driver "borrowing" the truck in the middle of the night to visit his girlfriend on the other side of the city, and then returning it a few hours later. He was let go the following day. The funny part is that he was one of the drivers who would always forget to take the phone or keep it charged.

    • Re:UPS (Score:4, Informative)

      by TheCarp (96830) <sjc AT carpanet DOT net> on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:21PM (#45227331) Homepage

      > However, it still managed to catch a driver "borrowing" the truck in the middle of the night to visit his
      > girlfriend on the other side of the city, and then returning it a few hours later. He was let go the
      > following day

      That sounds like a bad management decision. So he broke policy in a way that didn't actually cause a problem and brought back the equipment he borrowed before anyone needed it... so in response they let him go and now have to train someone else to do his job.... which last study I saw said costs the company, on average, 150% of a workers normal salary

      I really doubt that if you took all of the incidents where any employee ever did that for the company, and added them all up, it wouldn't equal the loss in productivity of replacing one average worker.

      • Re:UPS (Score:4, Insightful)

        by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:24PM (#45227359)

        My exact reaction. You have to assume that you're going to detect more prohibited behavior, so you need to scale back your punishments as a result.

      • Re:UPS (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:26PM (#45227381)

        He took the company truck without permission for non-company use. In most places, that's called "stealing a fucking truck." It costs the company gas and wear and tear, as well as being a huge liability issue. Returning what you stole doesn't really make it ok.

        • by TheCarp (96830)

          None of that changes that they likely lost more by getting rid of him than by ignoring his transgression. There is a difference between being in the right, and making a good decision. Sometimes the smart thing to do is to let people get away with things that don't matter very much. Perhaps you have heard "no harm, no foul".

          also I never said that it costs them nothing. Yes it costs them wear and tear and even gas if he didn't refill it....but... I was thinking of tall that when I said, and stand by, the stat

          • Can I borrow your car to visit my sick relative? No harm, no foul, but ignore that sticky mess in the back...
            • Re:UPS (Score:4, Insightful)

              by TheCarp (96830) <sjc AT carpanet DOT net> on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:55PM (#45227811) Homepage

              I don't know you from Adam so there is no way you are getting permission. However there are people I likely wouldn't give permission to that I would give forgiveness if they did it. Mostly family members; a couple of good friends.... we might have words if one of them did it, and I might register my displeasure, but.... the relationship matters to how much I care about the transgression.

              Hows this one.

              A) You find a stranger man sleeping in your back yard, and find out he has been doing it for a week now without you knowing.

              B) You find a good friend sleeping in your back yard, and find out he has been too embarassed to tell you he is homeless.

              Both are transgressions. Both you might be unhappy about, but kicking person A out and telling him not to come back is no net loss for you. Saying the same thing to person B means you are losing a good friend. Either way, nothing changes that there was a transgression, its just a matter of, is it worth it to you to lose a friend over?

              Now in this case the "friend" is actually an employee and the loss is the 150% of their salary that it takes to train their replacement.

              • Would you still keep that friend around if they broke into your house to sleep in the basement for a week? There's a lot of difference between trespassing and grand theft. Besides, an employer trusts their employees to follow the rules and cultivate trust. The driver broke the rules, didn't get permission to use the vehicle on personal time, and violated present and future trust that they could be relied on at all. It doesn't matter if they depend on that salary or not, because if it matter that much to
                • Also, I would like to point out that the principle of the banality of evil is at work here. The individual in question was not a horrible, shambling monster, but just a normal person with a normal life that failed to make good decisions that resulted in the commission of a crime. It was likely not his intention to commit grand theft auto, but he did, and he should face the consequences for it. There were no mitigating circumstances or emergencies that prompted him to do this, but he chose to commit a cri
                • by TheCarp (96830)

                  There is a lot of distance between trespassing and grand theft, there is also a lot of distance between grand theft for profit and unauthorized borrowing of property (maybe not legally, but, the law is the rules of last resort not the first go to for solving your problems)

                  So in short....my answer would still be, that it would depend on the relationship with the friend and might depend on things like whether they actually did any damage or took pains to avoid doing damage.

                  > Sounds to me like the individua

          • by mythosaz (572040)

            I said it elsewhere in this thread and I'll say it again.

            Replacing dishonest, untrustworthy employees is always less expensive in the long run than keeping them.

            I don't employ thieves, even when they're expensive to replace.

      • by khallow (566160)

        So he broke policy in a way that didn't actually cause a problem

        And if he had killed someone while driving that truck at the time, UPS would have been partly liable. That would have caused a problem.

      • That sounds like a bad management decision.

        How us this a bad decision? The worker used company property without permission, used company property for personal business, cost the company money through the use of fuel and potentially could have cost the company money had he gotten into an accident.

        This is an excellent example of a management decision. A clear cut one at that. If you think it's acceptable to randomly take company equipment whenever you fell like it, I'll be sure to do the same where
      • by Imagix (695350)
        Right up until that guy who "didn't actually cause a problem" hits somebody with the corp truck and that results in a lawsuit against the company. Thus the corp cannot condone the truck being used off-hours. Between the two arguments of "It's Corp X's truck, thus they need to be sued for letting the guy use it.", and "Well, the corp didn't do anything about me using the truck, if I couldn't have used the truck I wouldn't have had the accident, thus the corp is liable.", the corp is screwed. So they have
      • by mythosaz (572040)

        > However, it still managed to catch a driver "borrowing" the truck in the middle of the night to visit his
        > girlfriend on the other side of the city, and then returning it a few hours later. He was let go the
        > following day

        That sounds like a bad management decision. So he broke policy in a way that didn't actually cause a problem and brought back the equipment he borrowed before anyone needed it... so in response they let him go and now have to train someone else to do his job.... which last study I saw said costs the company, on average, 150% of a workers normal salary

        I really doubt that if you took all of the incidents where any employee ever did that for the company, and added them all up, it wouldn't equal the loss in productivity of replacing one average worker.

        Well, maybe the next guy they train will be trustworthy, because the guy they fired sure wasn't.

        As an employer, I hate when my employees steal from me -- there's a cost to maintaining vehicles -- and stealing a few bucks worth of car rental is still theft, and still reason to fire dishonest, untrustworthy employees. It's also terrible for the other employees, in that they learn they too can steal.

        Replacing thieves is always less expensive than keeping them.

      • by mmell (832646)
        Yeah - never mind the risk that company assets might foreseeably be damaged or destroyed by illicit after-hours use which does nothing to benefit the company. It's not okay for the (presumably fatigued) driver to use the company truck for anything which he doesn't feel like explaining in full to his employer . . . period!

        So, was yon driver enjoying a little drinkiepoo whilst he engaged in his midnight tryst? Even sober, I have to wonder just how much attention he was paying to the "rules of the road" (si

  • by CurryCamel (2265886) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:15PM (#45227261) Journal

    Lucky I am a white-collar. So none of this applies, right?

  • by RogueyWon (735973) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:25PM (#45227373) Journal
    I work in a job relating to airports and have come across a funny little side effect of this. As GPS trackers in company vehicles get more common, so too do employees resorting to the use of GPS-jammers. Those jammers don't just block signals to and from the vehicle in question, but also a significant area around the vehicle. When one of them drives past an airport with his jammer active, this [cnet.com] can happen (and there are many cases beside the one in that story).
    • by PRMan (959735) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @02:35PM (#45227509)
      As someone who writes software for this, do you really think the data doesn't make it 100% obvious who is doing this? Believe me, if you are doing this, they can find out easily.
      • by RogueyWon (735973)
        Oh, I'm not saying getting a jammer is a good idea. I'm just remarking that it's happening and that some of the consequences are ending up in unexpected places.
  • ... Dennis Weaver [imdb.com] wished this technology was around in his day.

  • All this technology was available. GPS, vehicle telemetry, monitoring software, phone tapping. It was just more expensive.
    Hardly a pipe dream.

  • Calling electronic shackles a pipe dream? Fuck him.
    • by OakDragon (885217)
      From the context, I was picturing a group of manager-types, lounging around in 3-piece suits, hitting the pipe...
  • by Krneki (1192201) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @03:22PM (#45228135)

    Since we pay their salary it should be our right to monitor what they are doing during work. Included reading their mails, and listen to their phone conversations and tracking their physical location via GPS.

     

  • Didn't Snake kill her?

  • I was once almost fired from a job because my employer thought I went to customer B first instead of customer A, when customer A was already really upset with our company. I forget the details as it was around 20 years ago, but when I arrived at customer A, they informed me they were cancelling the 8:00 am service call, so I went off to customer B, getting there around 8:30 or so. Boss**2 was livid and wanted to blame me for the loss of the account, even though the customer was ticked because $COMPANY had

  • by swb (14022) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @03:39PM (#45228361)

    I work as a SMB consultant and we run into a fair number of small business owners really intent on managing their employees "behavior" (web browsing, emailing, occasionally down to installing and running commercial spyware).

    I get why some situations (harassment of other employees, strong suspicions of financial crimes, corporate espionage, etc) may warrant this, but so often it seems like they're trying to manage behavior instead of managing the results of their employees work.

    If you have an employee who is supposed to produce a given work product, wouldn't it be more effective to actually focus on the work product (quality, quantity, etc) and not on whether or not they buy stuff from Amazon during work hours?

    If your employee can't produce the desired work product then you have a business-rational reason for firing them. If their work product meets the stated goals, then why do you care what else they may be doing provided it is not a detriment to the rest of the business?

    At the end of the day it seems like a kind of paternalism that is focused on controlling people, not managing their work.

  • All this does is continue the erosion of trust employees and employers used to enjoy. It makes for oppressive working conditions. Yeah, people slack off now and then, but is really worth the morale hit this kind of garbage does?

    I wouldn't work for a company that feels the need to spy on my every move. That's not the kind of relationship I'm interested in having with someone I have to deal with every workday. Not acceptable.

    I would think employers would feel the same way. Do they really want employees t

  • by b4upoo (166390) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @07:10PM (#45230043)

    If an employer has the right to spy on me then I certainly have the right to spy on an employer. Notice that the equality under law for all people does not change with ownership or status of an individual. Frankly my experience has been that when employers use covert tactics that employees tend to catch on and find many ways to exact revenge. One foreman I knew, in a machine shop, was taking very expensive products and throwing them in the dumpster in an effort to bankrupt his company. He had been told that his future with the company was in doubt as his abilities and respect for others limited his potential for any promotions.
                      I wonder if some of these shooters that go nuts and walk in to their job site blasting away are victims of unwarranted surveillance.

  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @07:16PM (#45230075)
    It's what we're all about. These sorts of things are used to make employees work harder and harder. As they do productivity goes up, and you need fewer employees. Fire some of them, and then make the survivors work harder. Lather, rinse repeat. It's not called a race to the bottom for nothing, you know.

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