Workers Can Learn About Their Rights at worker.gov
In October 2016 the US Department of Labor (DOL) launched a beta prototype of a new website called worker.gov, which is designed to help workers understand their rights under federal worker protection statutes. The website also allows workers to file complaints with the proper federal agency.
The DOL says that:
This new website doesn’t ask what statute you think your employer violated or what government agency you think can help you. Instead, users answer a few simple questions about their lives and jobs and then worker.gov guides them to the information they need. They don’t need to know the name of a single statute or government agency. Based on responses to questions, the site provides the information that people are most likely to need and prioritizes that information, making it easier for users to find.
The website was initially targeted at construction workers, day laborers, office workers, nail salon workers, and restaurant workers. But it provides information that applies to all workers, and the website will eventually be expanded to include a broader range of workers and industries.
According to the DOL, worker.gov uses the following design principles:
- Design and build with, as opposed to for
- Help workers build and tell their story
- Create a structured journey so information is easy to find
- Foster a continued conversation
- Make it accessible for all
A user who tries the site will learn about the right to be treated equally, the right to engage with others to improve wages and working conditions, the right to a safe and healthy work environment, and the right to be paid. For instance, a person who selects “I am being retaliated against because I complained about job discrimination” is told that employees have the right to complain about discrimination without being retaliated against.
“Workers themselves will drive where worker.gov goes next,” says the DOL, adding:
In future releases, as users answer more questions, the site will learn to narrow in on the precise information that workers need most. For example, if workers who identify as construction workers most often look for information about worker safety and wage theft, the site will begin to feature that information more prominently for users who identify themselves as construction workers.
Solve Issues Before They Become Bigger Problems
Of course, it’s better to solve employee issues before they get so bad that employees turn to government reporting.
An AdvanceHR article on the Small Business Association of Michigan’s website advises employers to use employee polls to “take the pulse” of a workplace and head off possible issues.
In addition, many problems can be avoided if employers and employees have clear expectations about job requirements. Employee handbooks and accurate job descriptions can help with these issues. Employers should know what duties a job actually requires, instead of relying on a job description that may have nothing to do with the actual job requirements. One grocery store chain found this out the hard way when it paid $33,000 to settle a case of disability discrimination for failing to accommodate an employee with a disability.
Employers should “set up a formal mechanism for employees to report problems,” according to Josh Spiro of Inc.com, because:
No matter how attuned you are to your workforce, there are details you will miss, and unfortunately those tidbits of information are often the ones you can least afford to overlook.
Organizations that set up multiple reporting channels for workplace issues are more likely to get early notice about problems, because employees will find it easier to report. This applies not only to problems like employees’ wages; employees can also report concerns about their company’s ethical behavior or its compliance with federal law.
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