Comp. time vs. overtime

Sally L. Ford, president/CEO, Ford Consulting Group Inc.

There are several advantages to the employer vs. the employee under the new compensatory-time-off bill--known as the Family Friendly Workplace Act of 1997--that could be unfair to the employee. One advantage for the employer who has a flexible work load--which varies from week to week--is that by offering compensatory time off, the employer does not have to pay expensive overtime pay. However, the employee takes a direct hit on his or her income. A provision of the bill states that while an employer must grant the request for comp. time "within a reasonable period," it is contingent on "not unduly disrupting the operations of the employer." Therefore, an employer facing an emergency or a very busy week may advise employees that they may not take the comp. time during that week. In addition, in the event that an employee accumulates comp. time in excess of 80 hours, an employer can provide monetary compensation for the accrued but unused comp. time over 80 hours after giving the employee 30 days' notice.

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Finally, the bill gives the employer the option of discontinuing the policy for any or all employees at any time after giving 30 days' notice. Therefore, if the employer does not feel that compensatory time off works for that firm's situation, then an employer can return quickly to the prior system.

All of these provisions certainly favor the employer. They seemingly defeat the purpose of the bill in providing a flexible work schedule for hourly workers, thus leaving these employees in a state of uncertainty.

Richard I. Lehr, attorney, Professional Landscape Contractors Association of America

Only Neanderthals and labor unions (which often are the same) could possibly oppose the concept that employees have compensatory time off instead of overtime pay.

The proposal for compensatory time off is that an employee can "bank" the time value of the overtime hours. For example, if an employee works 43 hours in a week, instead of receiving 3 hours of overtime pay at one-and-a-half times the hourly rate, the employee receives four-and-a half hours of "compensatory time" off with pay. The advantage to the employee is that he or she has a bank of paid time off that may be otherwise unavailable. The advantage to the employer is that labor costs are spread more consistently through the year, rather than having high, seasonal overtime expenses.

There is a track record that private employers and employees can consider when deciding whether this law should be passed and that is how it is applied among public-sector employees. There has been no outcry of employer abuse or unfairness in the application of this law, nor will there be in the private sector. With today's flexible work schedules and the changing nature of work in America, a compensatory time off instead of overtime pay option benefits the employer and the employee and amends a law whose principles were founded during the Depression, when unemployment rates were at their highest levels. It places this law in the context of a current economy where unemployment is at a 25-year low and employers and employees seek scheduling flexibility to accommodate the personal needs of today's workforce.

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