05.24.2011 0

How much did the Labor Department spend on its broken iPhone app?

The Department of Big LaborBy Nathan Mehrens – With much fanfare and self-congratulation, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor recently rolled out what it probably thought was an awesome idea: an iPhone app that allows hourly employees to keep track of their hours worked.

This new app presumably makes the division look very tech savvy, hip and with the times. But there is a major problem. The app, DOL-Timesheet, does not work properly and gives bad legal advice. In some instances, hours worked are not accounted for because the app improperly excludes certain breaks from the total — ironically, breaks that employers are not allowed to deduct under the same federal laws that the Wage and Hour Division enforces. In these instances, employees who use this app could be losing out on pay to which they are entitled.

For example, suppose a covered hourly employee begins work at 9 a.m. and ends work at 5 p.m. Further suppose that this employee is only allowed a single, 15-minute break every day. Under federal law, employees must be paid for such 15-minute breaks. But the Labor Department’s app doesn’t count them as time worked.

Over the course of a five-day workweek, DOL-Timesheet would cheat our hypothetical worker out of an hour and 15 minutes. Over the course of a 52-week work year, this amounts to 65 hours of lost time for the employee, or nearly two weeks’ pay.

As such, the app gives bad legal advice. If an employer with hourly, minimum-wage employees used this app to track their hours, he would be cheating them and subjecting himself to investigations and lawsuits by the same Wage and Hour Division that produced the app. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act the “Secretary [of Labor] may bring suit for back wages and an equal amount as liquated damages.” In other words, the employer could be forced to pay his employees double for an attempted “swindle” aided and abetted by DOL-Timesheet.

What’s more, it’s easy to game the app so that it shows a single employee working as many as 168 hours in one day. Because in real life there are only 24 hours each day, this obviously is a problem.

Given the problems with this app, one is left to question how much this thing cost taxpayers to develop. (Also, why does the Wage and Hour Division think that the low-wage hourly workers for whom this app is designed are buying expensive smartphones?)

This is just another example of the disconnect that is present within many parts of the Obama administration. The White House is very good at publishing attractive press releases, but less so when it comes to actually making the government work well. Because this app gives bad advice and subjects employers to possible legal action, it should be pulled immediately, and the secretary of labor should issue an apology for wasting our tax money to build it.

Nathan Paul Mehrens is counsel for Americans for Limited Government and previously served in the U.S. Department of Labor under President George W. Bush. This story was originally published at the Washington Examiner.

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