Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Government’s Embrace of Technology

When we think of the federal government and technology, the descriptors “tech savvy,” “early adopter,” or “cutting edge” don’t come to mind. In fact, despite all of the Obama Administration’s high-tech dreams, the federal government is usually well behind the times, as OPM data security measures demonstrate.  These days, however, we’re starting to see Uncle Sam inch his way toward technology.
The Department of Labor, for example, has an app that allows employees to track their hours and wages.  As Doug Hass noted, the app is only available on Apple’s iOS platform, but it is an indication that the DOL knows employees live on their smartphones. The app allows workers to calculate their wages based on hourly rate and number of hours worked, and will even calculate the amount of overtime owed.  It also allows employees to contact the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division directly to report underpayment. There are limits to what the app can do, and tips, bonuses, and fluctuating workweeks cannot be tracked.
The EEOC is also getting into technology in at least three ways.  First, EEO-1 surveys are now filed electronically (with an extension to October 30, 2015 for this year’s surveys).  Second, the EEOC has an assessment system that helps employees determine if they should speak with the agency about unfairness in the workplace.  And, most notably, the agency is testing a system that will handle discrimination charge filings, including employee and employer submissions, electronically.  Called ACT Digital, this system is being used in EEOC field offices in Charlotte, North Carolina and San Francisco, California.  When a charge is filed in the system, the employer receives a one-page notice explaining how to access and respond to the charge through a secure portal.
The somewhat more advanced NLRB has used an electronic filing system for some time.  This allows labor law nerds to get up-to-the-minute decisions from the NLRB, even if the wheels of justice otherwise grind slowly at the Board. 
The feds’ embrace of technology signals, in part, that enforcement agencies hope to engage employees and make it easier for them to report unlawful workplace practices. It may also result in quicker and more efficient disposition of claims, which can benefit both employers and employees. We expect to see additional technological advances in enforcement agencies in the near future, and we’ll let you know about them when they show up.

Posted by Kate Bischoff