This little corner of cyberspace has devoted ample screen acreage to the impact smartphones and other mobile communication and media devices have on the workplace.  The proliferation of those handy pieces of technology requires it and demands employers’ attention as well.  Just last week, Apple announced its App Store surpassed 15 billion downloads to its 200 million iOS devices around the world.  Earlier this spring, Google announced it had activated the 100 millionth Android device with those users downloading in excess of 4.5 billion apps.

With those staggering numbers in mind, the Federal government – specifically the Department of Labor – decided to jump into the fray of app development.  Back in May, the DOL announced that its “DOL-Timesheet” app was available for free download from Apple’s App Store.  The complimentary app is available in English and Spanish and is compatible with the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.  In its press release, the DOL promised to “explore” the viability of similar versions for other smartphone platforms like Android and Blackberry.  The DOL touted its app’s ability to “independently track” hours worked and wages owed including regular hours, overtime, and breaks.  The DOL’s own announcement reveals the true intention behind the app:

This new technology is significant because, instead of relying on their employers’ records, workers now can keep their own records. This information could prove invaluable during a Wage and Hour Division investigation when an employer has failed to maintain accurate employment records.

Not only does the app allow employees to track their time, it allows one-tap access to a list of contact information for the DOL including a toll-free “Wage and Hour Division help line,” email, and website.  Another tap opens a screen enabling the reports generated by the app to be easily emailed (to perhaps a friendly plaintiff’s lawyer).

Let there be no confusion – this complimentary app is designed for one purpose:  to arm employees seeking to make wage and hour violation claims.  Promoting such endeavors is nothing new for the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division – for a refresher, take a look back at this author’s and this blog’s discussion of the DOL’s plaintiff’s lawyer “hotline.”  Placing a second time clock – which can be easily emailed to the DOL or willing lawyers – in an employee’s hand or pocket is a bold step.

A brief review of the App Store comments show the DOL’s efforts are not lost on the smartphone public from both the employee and HR perspective.

  • HRinOK noted “[t]his is a terrible idea.  I can see employees bringing their iPhone into payroll and trying to argue that they were underpaid based on their own “unofficial” iPhone app timesheet…what a nightmare!  Hey Feds…quit trying to muddy the water by releasing useless tools that encourage uninformed workers to file complaints.”
  • StormChasin retorted with “[i]ts interesting that the negative reviews are coming from *employers* who think that their employees are too stupid to track their own hours.  Any tool which helps people to keep the company they work for honest should be a good thing.  Thanks DOL for making this!”
  • An apparent pro-HR reviewer asked “[w]hat genius thought of this?!?!  It is hard enough to get employees to clock in/out, [sic] of the actual system that pays them without confusing them with an app that purports to be ‘invaluable in wage and hour investigations’???  I’m now waiting to hear from an employee who claims their pay is wrong because it doesn’t match the amounts on this app.”
  • Lastly, a pro-DOL app consumer offers that “[a]nyone who writes a negative comment about the app are employers who are stealing from their employees and do not like the fact the employee can now prove it.  Take the power back!!! Thanks DOL”

No doubt this debate will continue in HR and payroll offices around the country where an employee or two have discovered this free “service” from the DOL.  Short of banning smartphones from the workplace – and the accompanying employee revolt – this app may be a fixture of any wage and hour dialogue going forward.  Consider yourselves warned.

Tom Kleeh concentrates his practice in labor and employment law. Mr. Kleeh has experience defending employers in protected class litigation and claims in discrimination claims against employers based upon age, race, sex, disability, religion and national origin as well as claims of sexual and other forms of unlawful harassment. He has defended claims for breach of contract, retaliatory discharge, defamation, invasion of privacy, and other employment-related torts.
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