Look out for the twist — On 140 occasions, electrician logged that he was working while concealing his location.
Dump out your snacks, block your boss' tracker.
A 60-year-old electrician in Perth, Western Australia had his termination upheld by a labor grievance commission when it was determined he had been abusing his position and technical knowledge to squeeze in some recreation during working hours. Tom Colella used mylar snack bags to block GPS tracking via his employer-assigned personal digital assistant to go out to play a round of golf—more than 140 times—while he reported he was offsite performing repairs.
In his finding against Colella, Australia Fair Work Commissioner Bernie Riordan wrote:
I have taken into account that Mr Colella openly stored his PDA device in an empty foil “Twisties” bag. As an experienced electrician, Mr Colella knew that this bag would work as a farady cage, thereby preventing the PDA from working properly—especially the provision of regular GPS co-ordinate updates… Mr. Colella went out of his way to hide his whereabouts. He was concerned about Aroona tracking him when the Company introduced the PDA into the workplace. He protested about Aroona having this information at that time. Mr Colella then went out of his way to inhibit the functionality of the PDA by placing it in a foil bag to create a faraday cage.
Colella, an employee of the Western Australia water management joint venture Aroona Alliance, fashioned empty foil packets of Smith's Twisties into crude Faraday cages, blocking the signals from GPS satellites as he ducked out to the links. Snack packets are made with a foil that combines aluminum and mylar plastic, making them electrically conductive and ideal as a temporary electromagnetic shield for mobile devices—as long as the packet is closed and grounded—and you don't mind a few crumbs on your device.
The Faraday cage is named for Michael Faraday, who discovered the properties that make it work with experiments with static electricity and an ice pail. The outer surface of an object acting as a Faraday cage doesn't block electromagnetic phenomena as much as it distributes it around its outer surface and doesn't transmit the charge or wave to its inside surfaces. At the same time, electromagnetic signals inside the "cage" are spread out across the inside surface and not transmitted out.
Aluminum is not a great conductor—it heats up when a lot of power is pushed through it—so a snack bag would potentially melt if it was used to try to block a strong radio signal from inside. But the signals from GPS satellites are weak and can easily be interfered with, intentionally or not, in many ways.
Apparently, Colella's managers were aware that he kept his PDA wrapped in a snack bag. In his decision, Riordan wrote, "Mr. Colella’s supervisors knew that he placed his PDA in the foil bag and... should have known the effect that this action would have on the PDA device." Riordan expressed confusion over why Aroona managers condoned the behavior, writing, "I cannot understand why Aroona condoned this practice, but it clearly shows that Mr Colella did not want to be tracked."
Colella is now apparently living the flexible work schedule life in full—NPR reports he is now working as an Uber driver.