Improving workplace flexibility

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Sometimes people need time off work to take care of loved ones or tend to life’s other demands and goals. But for many, that means taking unpaid leave. Congress has a chance to let America’s employers offer their workers that flexibility and earn paid leave.

The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017, passed by the House of Representatives, would amend the Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act to permit, not require, employers to offer employees the choice between compensatory (“comp”) time instead of overtime pay. Both employer and employee would have to agree on this arrangement, and employers could not coerce employees about it. Both overtime wages and comp time would accrue at 1.5 times overtime hours worked. In addition, if an employee does not use all comp time that’s accrued, it can be cashed in at the end of the year.

This reform is a win-win for everyone.

Employers face changing demands from today’s workforce, where people want and expect more flexibility in how to achieve their work-life balance. According to the House Education and Workforce Committee, “85 percent of workers value workplace flexibility when considering a new job.”

While many people will choose to continue taking overtime pay, others would benefit from accumulating paid time off, to spend quality time with loved ones, take a child to the doctor, or care for an elderly or sick family member.

Data from the Family Caregiver Alliance finds that “43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months.” Additionally, there are 14 million single parents, and in 61 percent of families both parents hold down a job. These are people who could probably use some extra time off without loss of income.

The reform Congress is considering is not a radical one. Since 1985, the federal government has given its own employees the option to receive comp time instead of overtime pay. It’s unfair that the government continues to prohibit private-sector workers and employers from receiving this potential benefit.

But even though the legislation removes government interference in one aspect of employment, it faces stiff opposition from Democratic leaders and labor unions. After House passage of the plan, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., accused the bill’s proponents of trying to “gut” protections for workers.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the terms of the House-passed bill, employers are penalized if they “intimidate, threaten, or coerce” any employee into taking comp time in lieu of overtime pay. And the choice to receive comp time is voluntary and up to the will of each individual worker.

Ultimately, the legislation empowers workers by giving them greater control of their own time and how they are compensated. In the modern workforce, as more workers want that kind of flexibility, government shouldn’t stand in the way.

The Senate should pass this bill, too, and make this reform a reality for American workers.

• Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com

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