Time off or overtime pay option a good deal

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Good news from Congress is hard to come by but I think we have some, in a House bill called the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013.

The legislation, introduced in April by Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., would allow hourly workers to opt for time off at the rate of one-and-a-half hours for each hour of overtime worked. This is something employees have wanted for a long-time.

Unfortunately this piece of legislation, written concisely in fewer than 1,300 words, is not getting the attention it deserves or an accurate reporting of how it would work.

Opponents and commentators are portraying this as a loss for employees, but I don’t see it that way. Rather than rely on anyone’s interpretation of the legislation, I went online and read the actual document.

The core of the legislation (H.R. 1406) makes it the employee’s decision to be paid overtime or to take time off and requires that the employee and employer agree in advance of the overtime worked and document their agreement on comp time.

The legislation puts a cap of 160 hours on the amount of comp time that an employee can accrue and requires employers to reimburse the employee for any unused comp time within 30 days of the close of their fiscal year.

Employers are allowed to limit an employee’s bank of comp time to 80 hours, but they must pay the employee for those hours at overtime rates.

Employees are allowed to change their minds and take the money by submitting a written request.

The legislation protects the employee from being coerced into taking comp time and stipulates that if an employee’s employment ends he is to be paid for all the comp time he is owed. The employee can turn to the Department of Labor if his employer isn’t complying with this new law — if it is enacted.

The main objection to this legislation seems to be that it is weak and allows the employer to deny the employee the opportunity to use his comp time.

The Department of Labor currently receives 250,000 to 350,000 employee complaints annually about current wage and hour law infractions, and each year the department collects on average $200 million in wages for employees.

The employers who do not comply with existing wage and hour laws are unlikely to comply with new laws. There will always be some people who do not comply with legislation, but that is not a good reason to stick with a law written in 1938 and sorely in need of some updating.

Most employers would comply, and I believe they would welcome the options provided in this legislation. Hourly employees value flexibility in their schedules. Single and childless employees want this as much as parents with young children.

Many years ago I was explaining a bonus plan to a group of low-wage workers. They asked if they could forego participating in the bonus plan and instead have more flexible work schedules.

What they wanted was perfectly reasonable and the employees were willing to cover each other’s work if the company management would work with them. That was the first of many times I have had employees willing to bargain away money for just a little flexibility in their schedules.

My guess is that there are a lot of informal comp time arrangements in place right now.

The partisan bickering and grandstanding that has become the norm in Congress might give way to good sense if enough of us contact our representatives in the House and Senate and ask them to work as legislators, crafting good, clear policies that will make life a little easier for hundreds of thousands of people.

Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her consulting firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at hrpartneroncall@gmail.com or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.

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