St. Louis Record

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Digital workplace apps may be convenient, but they can be a hotbed for employee lawsuits

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By Shanice Harris | Oct 23, 2019

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JEFFERSON CITY – Digital workplace apps are becoming commonplace for office interactions, offering a streamlined approach to employee growth and relationship through a single portal that’s easy to manage is tempting. But at what cost? 

An attorney's article on JD Supra warns that even though these apps are convenient, it can open an employer up to possible class action lawsuits. 

In 2017, only a handful of class-action lawsuit involved workplace apps specifically, but just two years later, all of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart attorney Evan Moses’ cellphone-related cases involved workplace apps. 

“Worse, I’m starting to see social media solicitations that, instead of targeting specific companies, are targeting users of particular apps,” Moses, a Los Angeles attorney, wrote in his JD Supra report. 

He wrote that digital workplace apps fall into four categories: expense reimbursement, off-the-clock work, interruption of meal or rest periods, and/or content-based claims.

Richard AuBuchon, director of the Missouri Civil Justice Reform Coalition, hasn’t seen an influx of workplace app lawsuits on his horizon, but isn’t surprised that litigation is beginning to emerge. 

“These enterprising folks who are trying to find the next niche ... will always try to find a way to be creative and come up with some data,” he said.

Workplace apps have allowed flexibility for employees, allowing them to attend meetings, answer emails, submit work and communicate with other team members all from the comfort of a remote location. But, if lawsuits persist, it could discourage companies from using such technologies.

“I can see how that would be a disincentive for a company to use an app-based way of tracking time,” said Aubuchon. “The plaintiff attorneys seeking those parties, all they need to do is ask Apple how many people have downloaded the app and try to seek folks from that.”

Moses suggests building a “terms and conditions” disclaimer in an app to manage employees' expectations when introducing the app to a team. 

“Creating and documenting a compliance plan before you roll out an app will help you enjoy the benefits of this powerful new tool while minimizing potential legal risks,” he wrote.

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