Worker Asks For Advice After His Company Decides To Track All Employee Phones Instead Of Using Time Cards

It seems like it shouldn't be, but with few exceptions, it's entirely legal.

woman annoyed at her boss tracking her phone fizkes / Getty Images / Canva Pro

For a while there, it felt like the pandemic was bringing us a lot of freedom in our work lives. But as normalcy has returned, it's started to feel like employers are snapping that latitude back in ever-bigger ways.

A worker on Reddit is experiencing this at their job right now, which has left them not only outraged but also questioning the legality of what their boss wants to implement at their workplace.


The worker's boss wants to track employees' phones instead of using time cards like usual.

That may sound like wild overreach, but it's an increasingly popular workplace solution for employers, especially now that work-from-home schemes are so much more common.

Eighty percent of the largest American companies are spying on their employees, and demand for various methods of employee monitoring via apps and software skyrocketed by 65% from 2019 to 2022.

In this employee's case, their boss is making a move that, common as it is, feels not only drastic but like a full invasion of privacy. And they're not at all sure what to do about it.


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The worker is worried they will be fired if they don't agree to allow their phone and location to be tracked by their employer.

"My employer recently changed to wanting to use a new time card app that tracks my personal phone," the worker wrote in their post. There are tons of these apps — they basically replace the time clock with an app downloaded on your phone.

But those apps come with all kinds of surveillance, including constant monitoring of your location so that your boss knows exactly where you are at all times, whether that's at your desk, in the bathroom, in the coffee break room, or somewhere else entirely.

@yourtango A junior employee was so suspicious of a coworker that she hired a private investigator spy on him- and then had the absolute gall to ask her boss for reimbursement #worktok #corporate #privateinvestigator #reddit #manager ♬ original sound - YourTango

It feels to many, this worker included, like an invasion of privacy and entirely too much supervision. "I, among others, are not comfortable with them tracking our phones," they wrote. 


"However, I’m certain that trying to talk it out with higher management will be met with a 'if you don’t like it, then leave' answer," they went on to say.

They also questioned the legality of such a move. "I’m about 95% sure that this is illegal," they wrote before asking their fellow Redditors, "What should I do or who should I call?" Unfortunately, the answer is not at all what they'd want to hear.

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With few exceptions, requiring employees to allow their personal devices to be monitored by their employer is completely legal.

Absurdly inappropriate as it may be, what this worker's boss is demanding is entirely legal in all but a few circumstances. California, for instance, places heavy restrictions on this kind of monitoring, and a few other states restrict it as well, so it's important to know your local laws.


But when it comes to devices your employers own, they are pretty much given carte blanche to track and monitor everything, including your location, even if you also use the device for personal use. This often includes being able to completely wipe the device back to factory settings without your knowledge or consent.

@gabrielle_judge This is how your employer is spying on you while working remotely.There are a few ways employee surveillance happens. As a good rule of thumb just remember to not do anything on work tools that you will regret.#corporatejob #toxicmanager #zoom #slack ♬ original sound - Anti Work Girlboss

As for personal devices, your employer has wide latitude in controlling those too, if you use them to access work files, software or apps. This is why experts say you should never mix your business and personal life on any devices, regardless of who owns them.

Your employer cannot, however, install any apps or software, or do any tracking of your personal phone without your consent. It's important to know, though, that this consent is often inherent to downloading work-related apps, even messaging platforms like Slack.


Many Redditors urged this worker to insist their employer get them a work phone if the boss wants to have this much access to their privacy, and experts say that is absolutely a good idea when faced with these requests. But, of course, his employer is under no obligation to honor that request.

And "at-will" employment laws, which all states but Montana hold, mean that this worker's employer is, in most cases, fully empowered to simply fire them for refusing to comply with the new company policy of tracking their phone.

As always, it's a good rule of thumb to assume that the law sides with employers and act accordingly. In the good ol' U.S. of A, it almost always does.


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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.