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House Republicans Hope To Switch Overtime Wages For Paid Vacation

House Republicans have passed a bill that could drastically affect the way overtime wages are doled out – if those wages are offered at all. The Working Families Flexibility Act, which passed along party lines on May 2, would allow employers to offer their hardest-working employees paid time off instead of overtime wages. No Democrats voted in favor of the law, CNN Money reports, while six Republicans joined in opposing the bill.

Will Paid Time Off Replace Your Paycheck?

Current federal law requires most employers to pay out time-and-a-half when their workers labor over 40 hours in a single week. The Working Families Flexibility Act, on the other hand, would give employers the right to offer 1.5 hours of paid time off as compensation for each extra hour of work. Work 8 hours of overtime in a week? You can receive 12 hours of paid vacation.

Overtime Clock

As currently written, the Working Families Flexibility Act would allow employees to make their own choice on how to receive overtime compensation – in wages or in paid time off. The Republican Senators who support the bill say it’s a necessity, one that will add more freedom to the lives of everyday workers. Conservatives have long-argued that our nation’s laws do little to promote a healthy work-life balance, according to ATTN.

Senate Passage Looks Unlikely

Still, they may have an uphill battle ahead of them. In fact, a number of similar measures have been introduced to Congress over the last few decades, but none have made their way into statute. Notably, a nearly-identical law passed the House of Representatives in 2013 only to perish in the Senate. This time around, Republican Senators will need at least eight Democratic legislators to switch sides in order to dodge a filibuster. Seeing as the bill received no Democratic support in the House, the idea of flipping eight Senators in the Senate seems pretty far-fetched.

The majority of Democrats hate the idea of switching out real wages for paid time off. The problem, as most left-leaning representatives have already pointed out, is that the law as written would allow employers to decide when paid time off can be taken. In theory, workers can choose when to use their overtime vacation hours.

However, a clause in the law says that employers are allowed to refuse requests for comp time that “unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.” That loophole could provide big companies with a lot of leeway. Democrats also fear that shameless employers may try to coerce their workers into accepting vacation hours over wages, effectively taking a loan out on their labor.

Democrats: Time Off Won’t Work In Real World

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has called the Working Families Flexibility Act a “disgrace,” arguing that it could give employers free reign to defer their workers’ compensation indefinitely. Overtime wages must be paid at regular intervals, but comp time would be apportioned at an employer’s discretion. Workers could be left waiting a long time to see any compensation for their extra hours.

Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, agrees with Warren’s assessment. “This is nothing but a recycled bad bill,” Murray said in a statement, “that would allow big corporations to make an end-run around giving workers the pay they’ve earned.” Labor attorney Celine McNicholas says the proposal disregards the power dynamic operative in most offices across the country. With the Fair Labor Standards Act’s broad overtime protections, employees don’t have to ask for their extra wages. But if the Working Families Flexibility Act should pass, that’s exactly what workers will have to do, despite having already earned their overtime compensation.

Republicans have attempted to guard against coercion in the workplace, stating explicitly that employers will not be allowed to intimidate their employees into selecting the more business-friendly overtime option. As the law is written, coercive employers can be held liable for both unpaid overtime wages and additional wages. That assumes, however, that workers will be willing to file a complaint against their company – an avenue that may be hard to come by if the Trump Administration cuts the Labor Department’s budget as threatened.

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