We have all heard the phrase “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”  There are many different reactions to that phrase:  some are appreciative, some are cynical, and some are not appropriate to be repeated in this blog.  One recent effort to help by our federal government is sure to receive those varied reactions – and is also certain to bolster lawsuits against employers that are not meticulous about recording their employees’ hours and correctly paying their wages. 

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has developed a “Timesheet App” available for free download on iPhones at http://apps.usa.gov/dol-timesheet/.  According to the DOL, this app:

“… is a timesheet to record the hours that you work and calculate the amount you may be owed by your employer.  It also includes overtime pay calculations at a rate of one and one-half times (1.5) the regular rate of pay for all hours you work over 40 in a workweek.”

The app is incredibly simple to use.  The app calculates work time automatically or by manual entry, and it can be used for multiple employers.  It will email the hours recorded so they are preserved beyond the iPhone.  Conveniently, the app also includes a glossary of terms to educate workers about timekeeping and even has one-tap links to the federal minimum wage and overtime requirements (along with the rest of the DOL’s website).  Last, but certainly not least, the app contains links to send the DOL an automatic email,  to call the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free help line, and to find their nearest office.

This free app is certainly helpful to an hourly employee.  Employers might not be quite as excited about it.  It is not a game-changer for an employer that carefully keeps an accurate record of hours worked, pays hourly employees their regular rate (at least the minimum wage) for all of those hours worked, and pays employees time-and-a-half (1.5x) for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week (or where otherwise required by state or local law or by a collective bargaining agreement).  For these careful employers, the app is just a strong reminder to remain vigilant.

But what about less diligent employers?  What if there are mistakes, or adjustments, or worse, intentional inaccuracies in time records or pay?  For these careless (or worse) employers, this new app makes an employee’s wage and hour lawsuit so much easier.  It will better educate employees and allow them to (at least feel like they) know what they are owed.  Further, rather than an employee supporting claims of having worked unrecorded or unpaid hours with only handwritten notes or, more frequently, based solely on memory, an employee with an iPhone can now easily keep a detailed record that will look complete and professional.  It might even be highly credible based on the records being kept contemporaneously with when the hours were worked.

Ultimately, this app underscores how critical it is for every employer to take careful, well-planned steps to record employee hours worked and calculate the appropriate pay.  The process needs to be as simple as possible so it is correctly followed, yet with features to ensure accuracy and fail-safes so that the employer’s records can be proven to be correct if challenged – especially by an employee with this government-sponsored iPhone app.  Employers who do not take these steps are making it that much more likely they will be sued for wage and hour violations – and making it harder for them to defend themselves.

By the way, no word yet on whether this app will be made available for Android or Blackberry.  Stay tuned…