In 1938, the federal government enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act in order to protect workers in Wisconsin and throughout the union from being exploited by their employers. One important provision of this law limits the work week to 40 hours. Workers must be compensated for any hours they work over 40 with time-and-a-half their regular rate of pay. By the mid-1980s, workers in the public sector were given the option of selecting overtime pay or paid time off–meaning they could either take extra wages for their extra hours or bank one and a half vacation hours for every hour over 40 that they work.
Now, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to give workers in the private sector that same employment right. Proponents of the bill say it is a great family-friendly measure that will help workers earn time off to attend parent-teacher conferences, childrens’ sporting events or keep up with other family tasks. The bill, however, is very controversial.
It might seem like a no-brainer that it would be great for employees to have the right to select what they need more: time or money. But, it is actually much more complicated than that.
Critics say that this measure is actually more pro-employer than pro-worker. This is because it gives employers a way to cut overtime costs. They say employers might pressure workers to pick comp time instead of overtime wages, and stop offering overtime hours to those who want wages.
The program works in the public sector, they argue, because these workers are often unionized and have greater safeguards.
The bill does bar employers from coercing workers to accept comp time instead of wages, but critics still worry that employers might take advantage of workers if this bill becomes law.
The bill would allow workers to accrue up to 160 hours of comp time, and although it could be used for any reason employers would have discretion over whether to grant specific requests for time off.
For now, it does not appear that the bill will go very far as support is split along party lines. President Obama has said he would veto it.
Are Wisconsin residents interested in being able to earn paid time off instead of overtime pay?
Source: Associated Press, “Overtime pay vs. time off: GOP wants a choice, but Democrats say plan would hurt workers,” Sam Hananel, May 6, 2013