Did you know the DOL was in the application development business?

In May 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor launched its first smartphone application, designed to help employees track their hours worked and wages owed. Continuing this trend of embracing the use of novel technology to help in its enforcement efforts, on January 31, 2012, the DOL, along with its partners on the National Equal Pay Task Force, announced a contest for creating software applications for use to promote pay equality — the Equal Pay App Challenge.

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, in announcing the Equal Pay App Challenge, noted, “Women make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force and play a vital role in the nation’s economy. While progress has been made in recent decades, the pay gap continues to disadvantage many women, with consequences not only for them, but for their families and the economy as a whole.”

According to the terms of the contest, developers are asked to use publicly available data and resources to create innovative, user-friendly applications that educate users about the pay gap and offer tools to combat it. The applications should improve access to pay data and provide coaching on early career pay, pay negotiation, and career mentorship. Prizes will be awarded to the winners, and the contest remains open until March 31, 2012.

Contestants will be well armed with data in creating this application. Salary.com, which maintains salary data for myriad jobs, announced its commitment to the National Task Force on January 31, 2012. Salary.com has agreed, for the first time in its history, to turn over its collection of salary data for use by contestants in the Equal Pay App Challenge.

The National Task Force, consisting of the DOL, the EEOC, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Personnel Management, was created in January 2010 in direct response to President Obama’s commitment to focus on and stop equal pay law violations. Just last week, we summarized the EEOC’s enforcement statistics and priorities and mentioned that, given President Obama’s focus on equal pay, pay disparity could become an area the EEOC zeros in on with respect to its systemic enforcement efforts. It is hoped that the winning application, once developed, will assist in those efforts and, perhaps, bring more equal pay claims to light.

Now is the time to take a careful look at your pay practices and make sure that you do not have a gender pay gap that would expose your company to liability for Equal Pay Act violations. Some, but not all, pay differences may result from legitimate factors having nothing to do with gender. However, many employees may take a more careful look at their pay as compared to their peers and/or industry averages once armed with an equal pay application, especially one that has been buoyed by salary.com data.