WASHINGTON, D.C. | April 17, 2013 -
For many Americans, balancing the demands of family and work is extremely difficult. Supporting a family is about more than providing an income. It’s about spending time with loved ones, cherishing good moments, caring for each other during difficult times.
No doubt some workers would seize an opportunity to earn a few extra dollars, perhaps to cover an unexpected home repair or purchase a student’s school supplies. Others may welcome the chance for additional time off to see a child hit a home run, visit with an aging relative, or be with a spouse about to deploy overseas.
All workers face a unique set of challenges and responsibilities. That is why when it comes to overtime compensation, they should decide what’s best for their families. Unfortunately, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 denies private-sector workers this fundamental choice. It assumes everyone would choose more money in the bank over more time with family.
Employers in the public-sector have offered comp time for nearly 30 years, yet private-sector employers can be sued or fined by the Department of Labor for extending the same benefit to their workers. The limited amount of flexibility in current law does not address the needs of today’s families. No worker should miss an important event in a child’s life or be denied time with a loved one because of this outdated federal policy.
The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 will help bring a law written during the Great Depression into the 21st century. The bill would allow private-sector employers to offer employees a choice between cash wages and comp time for working overtime hours. The legislation does not alter the 40-hour workweek or change how overtime pay is calculated. For those represented by a union, comp time must be part of the collective bargaining agreement before employees can take advantage of the benefit.
The bill includes numerous employee protections to ensure the voluntary use of comp time. For example, H.R. 1406 requires a written agreement between the employer and the employee. All existing enforcement remedies – including action by the Department of Labor – are retained. Additionally, new protections are put in place to safeguard workers from coercion and intimidation. An employer who forces an employee to accept comp time will be liable to the employee for double damages.
The use of comp time is at the employee’s discretion, provided reasonable notice is given and the requested leave does not unduly disrupt the business. This is the same standard used today in the public-sector. Let me repeat that: This is the exact same standard used in the public-sector. If the ‘unduly disrupt’ standard can work for government agencies, it should work for private businesses as well.
An effort to provide workers this flexibility has been underway for more than a decade. While the bill may be new to this Congress, it was developed years ago through many hours of bipartisan discussion and compromise. This process helped strengthen the bill to guarantee the rights of workers and job creators are both protected. Working families desire this flexibility; they need this flexibility. And I am confident most employers, who want to help employees achieve better work-life balance, would eagerly and appropriately offer this benefit.
Unfortunately, in the past special interests have blocked this commonsense reform. They falsely suggest the legislation will steal time and money from workers, undo the 40 hour workweek, and provide an interest free loan to employers at employees’ expense. Critics continue to ignore the legislation’s basic principle: Worker choice. Under the legislation, workers choose whether to accept comp time; workers choose when and why they withdraw from a comp time agreement; workers choose when to cash out their accrued comp time; and workers choose when to use their paid time off so long as they follow the same guidelines public employees do.
Americans sacrifice a great deal to provide for their families. We can help make life a little easier by removing barriers that deny workers the choice and flexibility they need to thrive at home and at work. The Working Families Flexibility Act is long-overdue and I urge all my colleagues to support it.