Track hours worked and pay due - there's an app for that

Jill Jensen-Welch Iowa Employment & Labor Law Dickinson Law Firm Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 05/23/2011 at 01:36 PM by Jill Jensen-Welch

On May 9, 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor launched its first smartphone application.  The app tracks hours worked and wages due.  This advances the DOL’s Fair Pay initiative, and the tech-savvy agency’s electronic footprint, which is already well-represented on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a website that is chock full of information. Presently, this app is only available for iPhones or iPod Touches.  Fear not, Android and Blackberry users.  The DOL is exploring other platforms for the app.  The Apple-based app—which is provided free as a public service—can be downloaded in seconds in English or Spanish.  (Those without smartphones can download and print a paper calendar to manually track time and calculate pay from the DOL’s website.) The app works like a stop watch.  It allows users to track hours worked, breaks and meals, for multiple employers, by using a timer that records the date, hour and minute (in military time) when work begins and ends.  Then the app works like a calculator.  It calculates gross pay due for the hours worked, based on the hourly and overtime wage rate.  The app reduces that data to a handy-dandy Excel spreadsheet that can be viewed or emailed, tallying the data by day, week and month.  The app is a reference, too.  It contains hyperlinks to helpful pages on the DOL’s website, a direct link to email the DOL with questions, and a glossary of key terms. As with any data collection system, this app is subject to the ageless problem of “garbage in, garbage out.”  While the app allows for manual corrections, such as when you forget to turn off the timer, that does not fully resolve issues of accuracy and data integrity.  As apps go, this one is simplistic.  It is only applicable to non-exempt workers paid hourly.  To be fair, this is an initial product, and the DOL is exploring updates that will cover complexities such as shift differentials, tips, commissions, bonuses, deductions, holiday pay, etc.  When the spreadsheet is emailed, it is accompanied by the following disclaimer that attempts to explain some of these limitations: This app is designed as a reference tool. It does not include every possible situation encountered in the workplace. Some situations not addressed in this app may yield a different result in the calculation of total pay. These include, but are not limited to, situations where, for example, the employee is not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act or is exempt from the minimum wage and/or overtime pay requirements of the FLSA. Further, the conclusions reached by this app rely on the accuracy of the data provided by the user. Therefore, DOL makes no express or implied guarantees as to the accuracy of this information. The DOL touts its new app as allowing employees to independently track time and pay, rather than rely on employer records—as if employees could not, and did not, have the ability to do that before.  In fact, Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor, said “This app will help empower workers to understand and stand up for their rights when employers have denied their hard-earned pay.”  Perhaps the convenience and accessibility of a smartphone app will result in a surge of employee recordkeeping and challenges to employer records.  That seems to be intended, as the DOL’s new release for the app said “This information could prove invaluable during a Wage and Hour Division investigation when an employer has failed to maintain accurate employment records.” Legally, the app presents nothing new for employers, but it is a reminder and wake-up call for vigilance.  Employers need to know and follow applicable state and federal wage and hour laws to the “T.”  That includes properly classifying workers, creating and administering lawful compensation programs, as well as maintaining required records.  If an employer’s time and pay records are challenged by an employee’s own records—from this app or not—then employers must be able to fight data with data.  Because nothing stays the same, employers must engage in constant monitoring and periodic reviews.  Also, this app will make it easier for employees to track off-premises work, such as work at home (e.g., checking work emails).  And it will be easier for employees to track off-clock work, such as time donning, doffing, cleaning or waiting before and after punching the timeclock—all of which may be compensable under the law, whether the employer treats them as compensable or not.  Finally, what better time to review your overtime policies and practices?  Remember, all overtime must be paid, even if not pre-approved by the employer; but employees can be otherwise disciplined for working overtime without prior approval.  The bottom line is that employers not only need to comply with the law, but they need to be ready to demonstrate it—and defend themselves, if necessary—when the DOL comes knocking.

 

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