Vote Explanation for H.R. 1180 — Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017

H.R. 1180 amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to allow private sector employers to enter into voluntary arrangements with their employees to compensate them with compensatory time off (comp time) in lieu of overtime pay. By January 31st of each year, employers would need to provide monetary compensation for any unused comp time from the previous year.

The FLSA, passed in 1938, requires employers to compensate all covered employees for any time that they work in excess of 40 hours in a week at a rate of no less than one-and-a-half times their regular wage rate. There are two reasons why the FLSA set a maximum hour limit and subjects further hours to an overtime premium:

  1. It discourages overwork by making it more costly for employers; and
  2. It spreads employment, which increases hiring and lowers unemployment

H.R. 1180 weakens the FLSA by effectively making overtime cheaper, potentially creating the incentive for employers to coerce employees to work excessive hours while providing no guarantee that they can take time off when needed.

It’s important to acknowledge that this system has existed for the past two decades in government, and some employee unions prefer it. These are generally higher-paid workers, like police unions, with members who prefer the flexibility of choosing time off instead of extra pay. However, it’s not fair to employees that if they choose to cash in any unused time off, they won’t get compensated for it until the following tax year. Democrats proposed an amendment to the bill in committee that would have put the comp time into an escrow account instead, where it would earn interest, but this was shot down by the Republicans.

In addition, H.R. 1180 permits the employer to deny the employee’s request if the employer determines that it would “unduly disrupt” business operations to permit the employee to use comp time on a date requested. This means that a worker who needs to use comp time to care for a sick child or for a personal health emergency might not be able to take time off when needed.

While the legislation states that employees have the choice to accept comp time or not, some are concerned that the power differential between employers and employees, particularly in non-union workplaces, would make it more likely that some employees would feel obligated to accept comp time instead of pay. This is particularly true for minimum wage workers, women, minorities, and people with disabilities. In fact, among workers paid less than $22,500 a year, roughly 40 percent report working some overtime in the previous month voluntarily.

These reasons combine to create significant concern that, by making it cheaper for employers to require employees to work overtime, it could leave workers with less flexibility and less control over their work schedules. Therefore, I voted against H.R. 1180.