School janitor says she was fired for not installing smartphone tracking app

Graham Cluley
@gcluley

School janitor says she was fired for not installing smartphone tracking app

A school janitor has lost her job, and she says it’s because she refused to download a smartphone app that would track her location.

According to Canadian media reports, Michelle Dionne lost her job cleaning at an elementary school in Darwell, Alberta, after her employer ordered staff to install an app on their personal smartphones that would keep track of their location and work hours.

Upon receiving the request, Dionne expressed concerns about her privacy – especially as there was no clear communication about how the app worked or how any data collected would be processed.

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“It was just a blanket statement — ‘Everybody install this app on their phone. This is how we’re doing things from now on,'” Dionne told CBC.

The app in question is Blip, from a UK-based company called BrightHR.

Blip uses GPS to create a geofence around a workplace, monitoring when an employee enters or leaves.

According to Dionne, when she was fired her failure to install the Blip app on her smartphone was mentioned in her termination letter.

It seems to me that it might be reasonable to insist an employee installs an app onto their personal smartphone if – and only if – that requirement was clearly explained when they were first offered the job.

To introduce the demand after someone has started working for a company, seems unfair to me.

Additionally, employees are right to ask questions about how their personal data will be secured by such an app, and their employers should properly brief their staff about what an app can and cannot do – rather than have them simply be told “Install this, or else…”

Dionne’s former boss, Hanan Yehia of HY Cleaning Services, says she didn’t know how and where data collected by the Blip app would be stored, and had not thought to ask the question before insisting staff install it.

There may very well be perfectly legitimate uses for apps like Blip, but companies would be wise to carefully consider staff’s understandable objections – especially when they are being told to install such an app onto their own phone.

And monitoring someone’s location is potentially the start of a slippery slope…what happens when an employer says they have a requirement to access the microphone of a smartphone?

Hmm. I wonder what happens if a member of staff simply says they don’t have a smartphone… will the cleaning company supply one just so the employee can be tracked?

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Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

7 comments on “School janitor says she was fired for not installing smartphone tracking app”

  1. I have no problem with it if it's the company's phone and the phone is left at the company after work hours. However, asking them to install it on their personal phone, which they keep with them all the time, is going too far. The company has a right to know when they're at work and where they are while they're at work, but they don't have the right to know beyond that.

  2. Blip is not a tracking app. It is a timesheet app. There is a geo fence around the work location so the employee is only able to login for the shift when they are at the designated job site. If outside of the location the app will simply not work. No tracking, and no visibility to where the Employee is at any given time, outside of the job site zone.

      1. It is easy to find on the WWW that Blip Time is a timekeeping application sold by BrightHR.

        Generally speaking, employees probably are not entitled to object to, or be particularly informed about the operation of, a timekeeping application. On the other hand, employers probably are obligated to provide the equipment needed to record time and attendance and perform any other functions associated with payroll operations. In this case, the employer probably can insist that the employee use the Blip application, but not that she install it on her personal cell phone, which she pays for, if she has one at all.

        The company might try with some success offering to bump up the wage a bit in exchange for installing the application on a personal cell phone, but in the end they might have to supply one if the employee declined or did not have one.

  3. "if a member of staff simply says they don’t have a smartphone…", that'd be me, I don't.
    Employer can give me a phone. Battery comes out after shift not to go back in until I get to the job location.

  4. There is often more behind these types of stories than gets reported. Do we know the employer’s motive for introducing the app? Was it simply to make time recording more effective or was there a workplace performance issue? If the former then introduction of the tech was handled very badly, lacked empathy and was poorly communicated. If it was the latter then I’d say you don’t solve employment issues by introducing ‘snooping’ technology – you need to think about your recruitment methods and management techniques before throwing technology at the problem. You may well ensure you have the employee physically in the right place at the right time but have you engaged their hearts and minds? Technology is a poor substitute for good management.

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