On July 14, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it would award $35,000 in prize money (read taxpayer dollars) for the development of a new app that would “empower consumer choices about the hotel, motel, restaurant and retail industries.” What is meant by “empower” is an app that will allow individuals to see with the touch of a button any disputes a particular business has had with OSHA or the Wage and Hour division.
As any business owner can attest, complex federal labor statutes present many traps for the unwary. Even for entities that should be experts in the law, mistakes can be made—the Department of Labor, for example, is in the process of settling an extensive overtime lawsuit filed by its own employees.
The clear intent of the app is to encourage consumers not to shop at firms that have fallen afoul of DOL mandates. Perhaps this is what DOL’s solicitor Patricia Smith meant when she said the Department would “shame” employers with whom it had a disagreement.
To be sure, employers have an obligation to obey the law and provide safe and fair workplaces. And most do. The problem with the Department’s proposed app is that it doesn’t appear to provide consumers with context for the violations it discloses (inadvertent violations or otherwise), whether penalties are being appealed, and the relative level of severity of a violation. Instead, employers of all stripes would simply be tagged with the label of “labor law violator.”
So as the economy struggles to create new jobs, the Department wants to use taxpayer money to encourage consumer boycotts of businesses over statutes DOL can’t even follow itself. Remind us again why hiring isn’t taking off?
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Caroline L. Harris
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