A lot has changed in the 75 years since the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act established this country’s most basic worker protections: the minimum wage and overtime compensation. Yet the need for those protections is more important than ever, and my agency, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, needs to be smart and embrace change in pursuing its most important function, which is to ensure that employers comply with the FLSA so that workers are paid fairly.
Our investigators can’t be in every workplace, and we’ll never reach every establishment through our traditional forms of outreach. To that end, we are hosting an app contest that challenges innovative people to link social media platforms with our agency’s enforcement data. 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. It also will recognize those employers who are doing the right thing and playing by the rules.
The DOL Fair Labor Data Challenge calls for creating a smartphone application that integrates the department’s publicly available enforcement data with consumer ratings websites, geo-positioning Web tools and other relevant data sets, such as those available from state health boards. The winning app should be creative, innovative and easy to use.
The app we would like to see developed would not only work with existing social media and allow consumers to see if an establishment that they want to do business with has been in compliance with federal labor laws, it could also prove a useful tool for job seekers and for companies that are deciding which businesses they may want to work with. It could also help individuals get in touch with the Labor Department if they have any questions about the law.
Now more than ever, workers, employers and the American public have immediate and around-the-clock access to valuable information about federal wage and hour protections and requirements. Additionally, the average consumer has at his or her fingertip countless professional and peer reviews of businesses throughout all sectors of the economy.
We’re hopeful that you, or someone you know, can tie it all together for us so that we can encourage compliance with the law that was designed to protect all workers, but especially the most vulnerable among them.
In combination with the more conventional steps we’ve taken to strengthen our enforcement efforts and provide compliance assistance to the employer community, using the latest technologies can go a long way towards ensuring a more level playing field for employers and better workplaces for everyone.
Laura Fortman is the principal deputy administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.