Telematics: potentially a useful green tool but also consider the employment issues?

United Kingdom

Telematics, the science of sending, receiving or storing information via telecommunication devices, has become an integral part of fleet management. Essentially it is a tracking unit or "black box" inside a vehicle, which is designed to facilitate fleet management. Its traditional uses are wide ranging and include facilitating the collection of road tolls, managing road usage, pricing auto insurance, tracking fleet vehicle locations, recovery of stolen vehicles and car accident notification alerts.

Laterly, telematics in fleet management is beginning to be seen as a green tool for businesses seeking to improve fuel efficiency, reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions, assist in measurement and reduction in carbon foot-printing and generally towards a reduction in overall transportation costs.

There are certain employment issues that fleet operators ought to consider when using this kind of monitoring equipment. However use of telematics as a green tool, should give rise to fewer potential employment issues if the use is well planned and is transparent.

Inform the employee

The ability to monitor and collect data on vehicle activity inevitably means monitoring and collecting data on driver activity too. Here the technology can bring employers and service providers into conflict with the privacy requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998 and general employment laws. There have been a number of disputes where telematics data has been used to dismiss or discipline employees. Often this comes down to employee knowledge, implied terms and what is expressly set out in the employment contract. Do drivers know the system is there? Are they aware that they may be monitored and could be disciplined on the basis of it? Employers need to ensure that they have a contractual right to carry out activities and employees should know what is happening and whether such monitoring may be relied on in disciplinary or grievance procedures.

Ensure the employee is aware of the purpose of the device

If an employer wishes to monitor workers it should be clear about the purpose and be satisfied that the particular monitoring arrangement is justified by real benefits. The key issue is not so much what the device is capable of doing but whether the employee knows about it and how the employer deals with information so obtained. It is acceptable, therefore, to install a CO2 monitoring device which also details the length of time the vehicle engine is switched off during working hours, provided that the employee is fully aware and the information is used for legitimate business purposes.

Ensure compliance with the Employment Practices Code 2005

This is a guide to complying with data protection principles in the work place. Although the Data Protection Act sets out exemptions where an employer does not need the consent of the employee to monitor, for example monitoring for any criminal activity, generally fleet operators have to ensure that any monitoring has been consented to, usually in the employment contract. If in-vehicle monitoring is or will be used, consider – preferably using an impact assessment – whether the benefits justify any adverse impact on the employee. Any intrusion on the privacy and autonomy of an employee should be in proportion to the benefits. Less intrusive alternatives should be considered where available.

Within the context of climate change and the employer’s contribution to this, the balance of interests may very well change over time. A couple of years ago, it might have been difficult to justify the use of telematic equipment in this arena. Ask the same questions today or tomorrow and the answers are likely to be remarkably different.

Covert monitoring

Currently, many professional tracking systems advertise themselves as easy to be "totally hidden". Covert monitoring of employees can rarely be justified. The Employment Practices Code emphasises that employees have a right to respect for their autonomy and privacy in the workplace and to expect a degree of trust from their employers.

Having said this, within the context of green uses of telematics, it is unlikely that an employer would want or need to be covert. Indeed the opposite is likely to be the case as employers are most likely to want buy in from their employees. In real terms covert use of telematics is likely to suggest that the employer is not looking at the telematics as a green tool.

Access to data

It is important that workers are aware of what information is being recorded, and why. It is also important that they should have access to any data about them and be allowed to challenge it. Some systems despatch vehicle reports by e-mail to the employer and can also despatch the same reports directly to the user of the vehicle – so that he or she is aware of the data at the same time as the HR department. Again, if the employer is intent on using telematics as a green tool, there should probably be little reluctance in disclosing this to an employee.

We now have an alert category for the latest developments in clean technology (aka green technology or greentech). To receive these updates, please click the 'edit my choices' link under 'my profile' at the top of this page and select Cleantech.