LEE COUNTY, Fla. - The meaning of overtime could change for private-sector employees here around the country. A proposed amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act would give employees a choice on how they spend their hours.
It's called the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013. The bill would give employees two options with overtime: get paid time-and-a-half or accrue comp time off at the rate of time-and-a-half.
In the restaurant business, days are long and vacations aren't always on the menu. "Sometimes, we work 12-13 hour days," Nicole Valiusaitis, Manager at Mamma Mia Italian Ristorante said. "Normally, if we take time off, we just lose a week of pay."
But, given a choice to trade overtime pay for days off, Valiusaitis is already dreaming up plans. "I never get to go anywhere," Valiusaitis said, "go away to the east coast or something for a couple days."
That's the idea behind the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013. If passed, employees who've worked 1,000 hours for their company could agree to:
--earn an hour and a half of comp time for every hour of overtime worked
-comp time would be capped at 160 hours
--they can submit a written request to have comp time paid out
--at the end of each year, or if employment is terminated, they can be paid for unused time
"A lot of people need it," Karl Bergstrom said. "They may have a child they take care of or some kind of other situation they need to take care of and this would be perfect for them."
"You give them an incentive," Elvis Balla said. "To me, it's a win-win situation."
Not everyone is behind it. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations says: "While the bill nominally makes it unlawful for an employer to coerce or intimidate an employee into accepting comp time, it does nothing to prevent an employer from discriminating - in hiring or in the award of overtime -against those employees who want paid overtime compensation. Nor does it provide for penalties that would cause an employer to have second thoughts about coercing employees. Additionally, all too many workers are currently victimized by wage theft because the Department of Labor does not have the resources to investigate violations of the wage and hour laws."
"The devil is in the details," Christina Harris Schwinn of the Pavese Law Firm said. "There will be compliance burdens that go along with the privilege of allowing employees to accept compensatory time. There is demand for it, especially if you work for an employer that doesn't have a paid time off policy for sick leave. If they have children that get sick, they often have to take time off and don't get paid."
The Representative behind the bill says it isn't designed to have an economic impact but rather, to improve employer-employee relations and keep workers happy. The Act was approved by a House committee only eight days after its introduction. It's now on the calendar for a vote in Congress.