May 23, 2011

Track Your Work Hours With New Smartphone App

Not sure if your employer is paying you correctly for that split weekend shift? Calculating your hours and overtime can certainly be tricky. However, the Department of Labor (DOL) is attempting to ease some of that complexity with a smartphone application that will aid you in tracking your time sheet.

The app, called DOL-Timesheet, lets workers calculate regular work hours, break time and overtime pay to create their own wage records. Officials say the information could prove valuable in a dispute over pay or during a government investigation if an employer has failed to provide accurate records.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis says, "This app will help empower workers to understand and stand up for their rights when employers have denied their hard-earned pay."

The app is the latest example of the DOL's push for more aggressive enforcement of wage and hour laws. The agency has hired about 300 more investigators to probe complaints of unpaid work time, lack of overtime pay and minimum wage violations.

Last year, the DOL began a program called "Bridge to Justice", that for the first time, helps connect aggrieved workers with private lawyers if the department's Wage and Hour Division is too busy to handle a complaint.

Legal experts claim wage and hour compliance has now become a leading concern for employers as the new policies help drive up litigation over unpaid wages, also known as wage theft. "The government is focusing on it like never before," Gerald Maatman, an employer-side labor lawyer based in Chicago, told the Associated Press (AP). "I think the mantra is kind of, `All enforcement, all the time, 24/7'."

Nearly 6,800 wage and hours suits were filed in 2010, about 700 more than the previous year, according to an analysis of court filings by Maatman's firm, Seyfarth Shaw. Most were collective or class actions.

"The concern is that the Department of Labor is putting a lot more attention into this area and employers, at the same time, are putting more hours, more money and more work into auditing and complying with wage and hour laws," Maatman told AP's Sam Hananel. "It's turning into somewhat of a full-time job."

The stepped up enforcement is a change from the Bush administration, when some critics accused labor secretary, Elaine Chao, of favoring business interests and weakening job safety and enforcement efforts. Employers have questioned such tactics, such as a program that gives workers a toll-free number to contact an attorney referral service run by the American Bar Association.

Head of the DOL's Wage and Hour Division, Nancy Leppink, explains the office is just doing the job it was designed to do, which is going after employers who cheat workers out of their hard-earned wages.

"To the extent we have employers who are not complying with the law, we have an obligation to look for all of the opportunities we can to change that behavior," Leppink told AP.

Last year the DOL rolled out the "We can help" advertising campaign, designed to educate employees in the food service, hospitality, apparel, manufacturing and construction industries about their legal rights under federal wage and hour laws. Wage theft is especially prevalent among immigrant workers who don't speak English or hesitate to challenge their employers, labor officials say.

Earlier this year, the department recovered $1.8 million in back wages for nearly 400 workers at the Houston-based Hong Kong Market grocery chain. Investigators found some employees worked as many as 70 hours a week, but were paid less than the minimum wage and denied overtime pay. Labor officials said the company deliberately misled investigators by falsifying payroll records.

The new smart phone app is expected to help low wage immigrant workers, many of whom can't afford a computer, but keep cell phones as a lifeline to family back home. The app is currently available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but the agency is exploring versions for use on other devices, including Blackberry and Android smartphones.


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