An Idaho Falls developer has created a messaging application that protects employers from labor claims by ensuring that hourly employees can only read messages about work during working hours.
Hourly employees working off the clock can be expensive, said Aaron Turner, CEO of HotShot Technologies LLC. In a recent class-action suit in Washington, a window washing company was sued for $1.7 million for off-the-clock labor compensation claims — $6,000 per employee, he said.
The application, HotShot secure messaging — versions of which are available for both the Apple iOS and Google Android operating systems — also includes encryption, like that of applications such as Signal. The software can also limit its use to when the worker is on site, Turner added. It also includes collaboration features as well as the time-and-location restrictions, he said, adding that the company has filed patents on the technology.
The encryption component also helps companies better comply with European data protection requirements such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Turner said. For example, let’s say a package delivery firm in France hires a part-time driver and texts him the addresses to deliver packages. “If that device leaves France, you have a cross-border data transfer without customer consent,” he said.
“It fits right into our business,” said Chad Merrill, manager of Mike’s Pharmacy, in Idaho Falls. He knows a couple of the owners of the software company and the app piqued his interest, he said.
Merrill’s primary interest in the app is the encryption aspect rather than the time-limiting aspect, he said. “There’s a lot of things we would like to do over text messages because it makes it easier,” he said. “It all comes down to maintaining HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] compliancy.” While other messaging apps offer encryption, the hospice group had looked into one of those alternatives and didn’t like it, he said.
The pharmacy is using the app with its main hospice nurse, who can now send a message with patient information through the application. Previously, the nurse could only send a text message asking for a phone call. “Either way, we’d have to pick up the phone rather than just sending the message,” Merrill said.
In another security feature, when an employee leaves the company, their data can be wiped remotely, Turner said. Or, if the employee works for the company intermittently, they can be put in a restricted group during the times when they aren’t working for the company, he said.
The software, which became available on June 1, requires an invitation, and is free, Turner said. Once an organization has more than 20 users, it costs $10 per user per month. The company has four “significant” customers thus far, he said.
Legal experts cautioned that the app wasn’t a panacea against off-the-clock claims. “If they have access to email, they would need to have that same type of technology for other ways they might do work off the clock,” said Rebecca Bennett, a shareholder in the Cleveland, Ohio, office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., a law firm. When employees claim they work overtime, the burden of proof is on the employer to prove they didn’t, and software like this could help an employer in defending such a case, she said.
“It’s a tool,” agreed J. Kevin West, shareholder in the Boise office Parsons, Behle, and Latimer, a regional law firm based in Salt Lake City. “It does lock them out, but that doesn’t guarantee that people aren’t otherwise working and not getting overtime.”
Turner is funding the company himself for now and is early stage talks with a formal investment expected in the next 90 days, he said. He has worked in cybersecurity for Microsoft and Idaho National Laboratory, and also developed mobile payments technology called RFinity, which he sold in 2010.