The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) continues to spread its proverbial wings. This time, in a move that may ultimately affect training, equipment, and supervision of remote employees across the ARM industry, the CFPB is teaming up with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Citing an overlap of potentially harmful conduct that may pose risks to consumers and workers, on March 7, 2023, the CFPB announced via press release that it entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the NLRB. The MOU will allow the two agencies to share information without losing confidentiality protections.
The CFPB’s objective is to enhance the enforcement of federal consumer financial protection laws and, specifically, its focus on restoring competition to consumer financial markets. CFPB Director Rohit Chopra stated, “Many workers discover that getting a job can mean piling up debt instead of making a living.” Director Chopra aims to “end debt traps that stop workers from leaving one job for another.”
The CFPB cited two examples of financial dangers faced by working consumers:
- Employer-driven debt: Accepting a job can place workers in what the CFPB calls a “doom loop of debt.” The CFPB’s position is that taking on personal debt for employer-mandated training or equipment more expensive than equipment on the open market saddles workers with significant debt and discourages them from changing jobs.
- Employer surveillance and selling personal data: The CFPB noted that surveillance tools, such as those used to track worker productivity, can continue to track people outside of working hours. Further, the companies that own the surveillance tools might sell workers' data to financial institutions, insurers, and other employers. According to the CFPB, these types of actions may violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and other consumer financial protection laws.
The announcement can be found here.
The MOU in its entirety can be found here.
The CFPB’s decision to wade into employee relations under the umbrella of consumer protection will undoubtedly be the source of future can they/can’t they debates. Though it’s unclear how the CFPB jumps from protecting consumers to protecting workers, the MOU implies that the CFPB believes it has this authority. As we have learned time and time again over the past few years, if the CFPB believes it can, it will.
So what does this announcement mean for the ARM industry?
The announcement did not define “significant debt” or explain whether the CFPB considers all costs associated with training or equipment problematic. It likewise did not provide much detail regarding whether surveillance tools or a perceived lack of clarity to employees about those tools amount to potential FCRA violations.
To ensure they are prepared for the future, though. this may be a good time for ARM entities to look at employee practices through the lens of this announcement. Some questions to ask internally might be:
- How are your remote employees supervised?
- Do tracking programs shut off at the end of the work day?
- Does info gathered through surveillance get shared with anyone?
- Are your policies sufficiently documented to show that the goals of protecting consumer data and surveilling employees are met without simultaneously exposing your employees’ personal data?
- Do you pay less for employees in training?
- Do you charge employees for any equipment? If so, how does that price compare to a big box store?
- Are policies for charging employees documented to show fairness and justification?
Whether this announcement amounts to anything remains to be seen, however, ARM organizations should continue to pay attention. We will provide updates should the CFPB make future announcements on this topic.