Government Intrusion: Good thing or a New Low?

by Michael Haberman on July 30, 2013 · 0 comments


 

Would you use a smart phone app that reports the "unfairness" of companies toward their workers?

Would you use a smart phone app that reports the “unfairness” of companies toward their workers?

Would you avoid a business that has a reputation for under paying workers? What about one that was being sued for discrimination? What about one that just had a reputation for not being fair? Well the US Department of Labor is betting you will. They are trying to supply consumers with that sort of information. My question to you is do you think that sort of intrusion is a good thing or a new low for the government?

A reputation app

I first heard of this on a radio show last week and then read a post written by John E. Thompson of Fisher Phillips called USDOL’s “Naughty or Nice?” App. The USDOL is running a contest to have a smart phone application written that basically tells consumers if an establishment is good to its workers or not. As the website Challenge.gov states, the challenge is:

to create an application that integrates publicly-available enforcement data from the Wage and Hour Division and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for various industries with other publicly available consumer friendly data sets and consumer ratings web sites like Yelp and mapping tools like Google Maps. The application will help consumers locate such establishments and view their federal enforcement and violations history as well as read consumer reviews to help them decide where to spend their hard-earned wages.  Not only can this compliance information be useful to consumers, it can likewise factor into employees’ decisions while job hunting.

Basically they are trying to use the tactic of public shaming in order to get businesses to comply with the USDOL. Their hope is that by running away customers from a business the business will “see the light” and correct their evil ways. I wonder if this tactic will ruin businesses for good and end up costing workers their jobs instead.

Problems with this tactic

Attorney Thompson asks the question when with this “become an vehicle for the dissemination of erroneous, inaccurate, or otherwise mistaken information, such as where it results in misattribution or misidentification, or in mischaracterized or misleading disclosures.” And once a company gets put on this list mistakenly how long does it take to recover its reputation? It reminds me of the chain letters that have accused various retail stores of not supporting the flag, or freedom, or having girls scouts arrested for selling cookies, etc. all based on rumors.

Thompson also indicates that “The solicitation also leaves many other matters unclear. As just one example, there is no indication whether the app will characterize as ‘violations’ situations in which the Division and management settled a matter on a non-admissions basis, that is, in an agreement in which the employer does not concede that there was any violation in the first place.” And he notes that they want data included that has nothing to do with the USDOL, thus far overstepping their bounds. To me it sounds like a very bad idea, but that is just my opinion.

You reward

The developer of this app gets a “great” reward. It is a “Expenses Paid Trip to Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C., Meet & Greet with Federal Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Secretary of Labor, U.S. Chief Innovation Officer, meet with top private sector entrepreneurs and innovators.” Please note however, that the current prize is subject to change at any time.

So if that prize floats your boat put on your developer hat and get to work. You had better not on plan on charging anything for it however. I am not sure how many people will really want to pay for it. After all Walmart is still in business despite constant assaults on their reputation.

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