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House Subcommittee Discusses Workplace Flexibility Bill

The House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a March 12 hearing to examine legislation (H.R. 1119) designed to provide flexible work policies in the private sector.

In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which prohibits employers in the private sector from offering employees the choice of compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay. In 1978, Congress passed legislation allowing federal employees to arrange alternative schedules; in 1985, Congress extended flexible work options to all public sector employees allowing them to receive compensatory time off in place of overtime pay. Recently, Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) introduced the Family Time Flexibility Act (H.R. 1119), which would allow private sector employers to offer their workers the choice to receive paid time off in lieu of cash payments for overtime. The bill would require a written agreement between the employer and the employee, entered into voluntarily and knowingly by the employee. Compensatory time would be calculated at a rate of one-and-one-half hours of comp time for every hour of overtime work. Workers would be allowed to accrue up to 160 hours of compensatory time per year, and employers would be required to provide cash payments to employees for any unused, accrued time at the end of the year.

“We all know that workers today face a difficult dilemma: how to balance the demands of a job with the needs of their families,” noted Rep. Biggert. “This conflict may weigh most heavily on women,” she said. “The Family Time Flexibility Act will help ease these pressures,” she added.

Ranking Member Major Owens (D-NY) disagreed, pointing out that similar legislation failed to pass previous Congresses. The legislation “undermines the 40-hour work week, and increases an employer’s control over a worker’s life,” he said. Instead, we should “expand the Family and Medical Leave Act, provide workers the right to refuse excessive overtime, and increase the minimum wage,” he recommended.

Testifying on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Houston Williams described how the workplace has changed in the more than 60 years since the FLSA was enacted. “When the FLSA was enacted, the workforce consisted mostly of men. It was atypical for households with young children to have both parents work outside of the home,” he said. “But today, a greater percentage of employees who work overtime are women, there are more dual-wage earner couples in the workforce, and there are more single mothers,” he stated. “These demographic changes in the workforce are a major reason why today many more employees view time off as valuable or more valuable than cash payments for overtime work,” he explained.

“The Family Time Flexibility Act answers the plea of working families who continue the struggle to achieve balance and who are continually forced to make difficult choices between the needs of family and an increasingly hectic work schedule,” agreed John Dantico of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “This legislation makes small changes to an outdated law, but the impact will be tremendous,” he asserted. “A 2000 SHRM survey found 41 percent of HR professionals in favor of amending FLSA to allow comp time in order to increase flexibility for employees’ personal leave needs,” he added.

Ellen Bravo of 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women, testified in opposition to the Family Time Flexibility Act. “H.R. 1119 does nothing to address the problem of mandatory overtime,” she argued.

“This bill also won’t help workers who need to work overtime because they need the cash,” she asserted. “Many workers who already have comp time complain about not being able to take it when they need it,” she said. “Best practice employers know it makes sense if your child has a school play on Thursday to let you come in early or stay late the day before to make up the time,” she contended. Additionally, Ms. Bravo recommended alternatives to support enhanced flexibility for workers, including: an expansion of the FMLA; limits on mandatory overtime; a minimum number of paid sick days for routine illness, which workers may use to care for a personal illness or sick family member; and a higher minimum wage, indexed to inflation.

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