Guidance for negotiating privacy concerns

Privacy is often an issue for employees when they learn employers are considering in-vehicle telemetry. Reactions can range from mild concern to righteous indignation, and perspectives on the rights of employees can vary widely.

Phrases like "big brother" get bandied around and dystopian societies are imagined. If not handled well this has the potential to derail your initiative and defer any benefits for your organisation.

Fortunately, fears of the Orwellian future usually do not come to pass. Smartrak has seen many customers go through this process, and while this should not be considered legal advice we can give guidance on how to approach this.

Principles guide policy

Your communication with your staff, and ultimately your privacy policy, should be guided by these principles:

  • Legitimacy - the reasons for collecting data and its use must be consistent with your company's purpose for the telemetry. Don't use the data for any other purpose.
  • Transparency - say what you do, then do what you say.
  • Early stakeholder engagement - identify influencers early and engage them in the process.

When employees think they've been misled, they feel betrayed, which undermines trust. This is why transparency is so important and why engaging the right stakeholders early is paramount. Betrayal doesn't have to be real to undermine the process - if an influencer turns into a detractor and starts spreading gossip, the initiative can be waylaid. Think about who will lead the coffee room conversations and make sure they are as informed and onboard as your executives.

There is little specific guidance regarding privacy and telemetry, but the best practice for Australia and New Zealand concerning employee monitoring is to develop a draft privacy policy early and circulate it among your stakeholders/employees. This should underscore legitimacy by outlining:

  • Business purpose and intended use of the data.
  • What is recorded - location, speeding, start/stops, idle time, g-force, etc
  • Who and/or what roles have access to the data.
  • For those with access to the data, what are they allowed and not allowed to do with it.

Your intentions matter

Your intended use can influence the reaction of the stakeholders. Using telemetry for cost savings or compliance is an easier sell than monitoring driver behaviour, although there can be hooks for both.

With cost reductions can come the shift from allocated vehicles to pool vehicles (and the associated loss of fringe benefits). This can be offset by compensating those who lose out directly through salary or other benefits.

Driver behaviour monitoring is usually justified as a health and safety consideration, and what can help staff buy-in is taking a reasonable, moderated approach. Most customers find that ranking drivers and managing the worst offenders is a better approach than having an absolute sense of good vs bad driving. In this way, you can progressively reduce 'the problem' to an acceptable level. Setting speeding thresholds with a reasonable margin for error also helps employees feel comfortable with the system.

Private use is private

Private use is a legitimate bone of contention. Employees have a right to privacy outside work hours (although the employer still has a case to argue that the vehicle should be used safely). Best practice is to include this in the 'limitations of use' section in your privacy policy, and make it clear that actively monitoring employees during private time is considered misuse (and subject to repercussions). Pool fleets rarely carry these privacy concerns as they are usually restricted to business use.

Unions aren't any different

Unions may appear to be daunting obstacles, but the principles are exactly the same: communicate a legitimate purpose, engage early and be transparent throughout the process. Highlighting the benefits for employees should help, and health and safety could be safe common ground (whereas cost reduction is rarely for employee benefit). Smartrak knows of one Australian union that blocked telemetry one year and, following major bush fires, insisted on it the next.

From the trenches

A few years down the track, customers often report that the privacy concerns were a storm in a teacup. A common retort to the complaint that big brother is watching is: "how much time do they think we have?" This very practical consideration is worth mentioning to employees and stakeholders. No company can financially justify monitoring the specifics of who goes where and when, so the type of information consumed is almost always in the form of summary reports. In a nutshell, the message is: "We won't look unless you give us a reason to do so."

Reflecting on your values

Your company values will be publically reinforced (or contradicted) by the way you approach the change management around privacy. It is important to consider how your values and the guiding principles (legitimacy, transparency, stakeholder engagement) mesh. This will help guide you to a solution that benefits your company and employees. Any clash between your approach and your values is likely to generate resistance.

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