House of Representatives Approves Sweeping Changes to Overtime Pay

On Wednesday, the House approved a Republican-designed measure which would allow employees to opt out of receiving overtime pay.

Thankfully, the bill is not expected to gain traction in the Senate, where Democrats still have control.

The legislation is called “The Working Families Flexibility Act”; in return for giving up the legally required 150%-of-normal (or “time and a half”) rate of pay for weekly hours worked over 40, workers would receive additional future time off.

The Boston Globe captured the problem with this change, which is a wolf in sheep’s clothing for workers’ rights:

Democrats oppose the law because they say it would allow employers to pressure workers into taking time off instead of overtime wages. They also said it gives employers too much power to decide when an employee can take the additional time off.

Were this bill made law, workers opting out of overtime pay would be granted “50 percent more time off than the number of overtime hours worked” per the same article. Public-sector workers can already make this choice. The measure appears to increase the choices available to private-sector workers, but employers take any chance they can get to reduce payroll; workers who eschew the opt-out could be retaliated against.

As Yahoo! reported:

The measure is part of a broader Republican agenda aimed at expanding the party’s political appeal by offering conservative ideas to help average Americans on issues like economic growth and job creation.

But average Americans would actually be harmed. The Globe pointed out that firms might discriminate against prospective hires who indicate that they would not give up their right to overtime (a right protected since 1938 by the Fair Labor Standards Act). Furthermore, the legislation contains a broad mechanism by which companies could easily deny the earned extra time off:

The bill allows employers to prevent employees from taking the time off at particular times if it would “unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.” [A Massachusetts labor activist] said that means a parent seeking to use earned time off to deal with a sick child, for example, could be denied a leave at a particular time by her employer.

The Harman Firm strongly opposes this bill. Our practice continues to aggressively advocate for workers’ rights, including duly owed overtime wages. Contact us with any questions about FLSA protections or other areas of employment law.