Just like staying at a Holiday Inn Express made you smarter in the mid-to-late 2000s, writing a post about “blockchain” will make any blogger sound smarter in the late 2010s.
The latest entry in the blockchain derby, was “Is blockchain the next frontier in preventing sexual harassment?” by Jon Hyman. The post does a good job of explaining blockchain as a technology that creates secure, verified and unchangeable records. Hyman also writes how blockchain could be used for reporting of sexual harassment – and presumably other forms of unlawful discrimination. (The clear explanation of blockchain makes the post worth reading.)
The innovation or “disruption” described by Hyman is that there is an blockchain program that allows employees to bundle reports of harassment made against the same harasser.
So some Silicon Valley genius, or poorly paid coder, developed a program that mimics protected concerted activity. There might be an intellectual property issue here as this concept was actually invented in the 19th century – it’s called a labor union.
My problem with the use of blockchain software run by a third-party on behalf of management are numerous. First it would impose hurdles in the discovery process. If similar complaints of harassment or discrimination are stored by a third-party, HR may not know to disclose them in discovery. I suspect this may not be entirely accidental. Harassment and discrimination claims usually require an employer have knowledge of the discrimination and the opportunity to take remedial action. Outsourcing reporting and creating an extra step in reporting discrimination gives employers additional legal protections.
Also, if similar complaints about harassment or discrimination were stored on a blockchain run by a third-party vendor, it might require subpoenaing those records. Besides potential jurisdictional issues over subpoenas, tech companies are famously unwilling to cooperate with legal investigations. Apple refused the request of the FBI to unlock the I-phone of a mass shooter in San Bernadino, California. If tech companies will stonewall the FBI, I am sure they would stonewall a plaintiff’s lawyer in a civil case.
In contrast, a call to a union business agent or Local leader will often yield information about comparators and company practices in a discrimination case. Unions aren’t perfect, but neither is HR or the latest technology. Innovations in information technology can empower employees. One example is an app created by the United States Department of Labor designed to combat wage theft. But blockchain technology controlled by management is just another tool in maintaining the dominance of capital over labor in the workplace.