Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The DOL’s “Fair Labor Data Challenge” presents an interesting strategy, but is it fair?

The Department of Labor is asking for help to create an iPhone/Android app to aid employees in tracking corporate wage-and-hour compliance.

The DOL Fair Labor Data Challenge will “help consumers locate … establishments and view their federal enforcement and violations history as well as read consumer reviews to help them decide where to spend their hard-earned wages.”

According to the DOL, the “app … would work with existing social media and would allow consumers to see if an establishment that they want to frequent has been in compliance with federal labor laws.” Its hope is that by “providing consumers with information at their fingertips about which businesses have treated their workers fairly and lawfully, the app will empower them to make informed choices about where to shop, eat, or even vacation.” Thankfully, in addition to flagging underpaying scofflaws, it “also will recognize those employers who are doing the right thing and playing by the rules.”

In other words, the DOL wants to shame employers into wage-and-hour compliance. The DOL itself says, “Our investigators can’t be in every workplace, and we’ll never reach every establishment through our traditional forms of outreach.” So, to compensate for its enforcement black-hole, the DOL is turning to viral outreach to create a way for people to soft-boycott those businesses that employees say do not comply with the wage-and-hour laws.

I will be very curious to see what this final product looks like if it ever hits the App Store. For this app to live up to its “fair” name, it must provide employers the ability to rebut negative comments. Otherwise, this app will be nothing more than a one-sided vent for disgruntled employees. Regardless, employers should keep this issue on their radars as yet another reason to get their wage-and-hour practices in line.