The GOP-led U.S. House voted to allow employers to replace overtime pay, as currently required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), with compensatory time off, or comp time. This sounds great until the bill, inappropriately titled “The Working Families Flexibility Act,” is actually looked at. Despite its claim of increased flexibility, it will make it easier for employers to schedule lots of overtime without paying, and give workers far less flexibility in their lives.
While the comp time would be provided at the same time-and-a-half rate as the FLSA requires for overtime, it would hurt the many low-wage, hourly workers in this country who so frequently depend on overtime pay to make ends meet.
Employers must pay out any comp time no later than 31 days after the end of the company’s year or the end of the calendar year, whichever the company adheres to. While that may wind up being a fairly hefty chunk of pay all at once, it doesn’t help with weekly and monthly expenses for those who are used to depending on overtime pay, though an employee can request payment for any unused comp time at any time under this act.
Furthermore, that accrued and unused comp time is essentially an interest-free loan to the employer, right out of the employees’ pockets. Yes, employers have to pay if the time isn’t used, but they get a 30-day window, even if the employee requests to have comp time cashed out early. With that window, the employee may or may not see the money on their next paycheck, making it harder to plan and to meet unexpected expenses.
The bill also doesn’t contain provisions for allowing workers to use their comp time when they need it, say, for emergencies, sudden illness, parental obligations, surgery, etc. The FLSA is already woefully inadequate when it comes to providing for time off, paid or otherwise, and this does not touch on that issue at all. Ergo, an employer can pay its employees with comp time, but refuse to let them use it when they need it.
One analysis of the bill says it creates incentives for employers to overwork employees who agree to take comp time. Employees can bank up to 160 hours under the law, but those employees who don’t agree to it and want to keep getting overtime pay would probably not get the hours they’re looking for. Indeed, this bill also says nothing about having to provide overtime hours equally to employees regardless of their overtime or comp time status.
Much of that is wildly hypocritical considering Congress is only slated to be in session for 126 days this year. The phrase “overworked and underpaid” will apply to workers even more under this law, while Congress works less and less. They’re paid $174,000 per year to work for less than half of it.
There is also no recourse for employees who find themselves intimidated or coerced into agreeing to comp time, despite this bill’s prohibition against that. Their only recourse is to sue, which is expensive and time-consuming, and may or may not be successful. Employees who manage to get a class certification for such litigation would also likely find themselves with less-than-fair financial compensation from whatever settlement is reached, since that is the typical outcome of class-action lawsuits.
In other words, this law hamstrings hourly workers and puts the few remaining cards they have into the hands of their employers. It doesn’t help families, it hurts them, by continuing to erode workers’ rights.
|Rika Christensen is an experienced writer and loves debating politics. Engage with her and see more of her work by following her on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her blog, They Need To Go.|