Eileen Appelbaum
The Hill, April 5, 2017

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On April 5, the House Education and Workforce Committee Subcommittee on Workforce Protections is holding a hearing on the Working Families Flexibility Act, which Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) is once again introducing.

Despite the reference to "working families" in its name, this is a bill that actually gives employers flexibility to require employees to work overtime without having to pay them for the time. The Roby bill lets employers offer workers "comp" time off instead of time-and-a-half pay to workers eligible for overtime pay when they are required to work more than 40 hours in a week.

In theory, the bill lets workers decide whether to enter into an agreement for comp time rather than overtime pay.

In practice, however, employers will give the overtime hours to those who have agreed to forego pay. This will make life harder for those who need the extra hours and the extra pay in order to make ends meet.

Workers often need time away from work to deal with non-work responsibilities, but this bill does not provide it. Workers can bank up to 160 hours of comp time, but it is up to the employer whether — and when — they get to use them. The Roby bill does not guarantee that workers can use the time when they need it — even in emergency situations.In fact, the bill requires workers to request the use of the comp time they have banked in advance, with nothing in the bill to address emergency situations. Employers can refuse a worker's request to use comp time if they feel it would be disruptive — so it's up to the employer, not the employee, to decide when these banked hours can be used.

Employees who have banked 160 hours and are planning to use them when they have a baby or for other important event where they need to take time off may be shocked to find that their employer can just decide to pay them for hours over 80 and not let them take the time off they were counting on.

And if the employer goes out of business, the worker will really be out of luck: Workers  who have accumulated comp time will have little chance to get the time they banked or money for the unpaid hours they worked. In other countries where workers can bank hours, employers are required to buy insurance that protects workers if the company goes bankrupt.

The Roby bill, far from providing workers with more time with their families, is likely to increase the amount of involuntary overtime because it costs the employer nothing. Workers who need overtime pay in order to cover their bills will suffer financial hardship. Workers who want to bank hours to use when they need them will find that it is the employer that has final say over when the worker can take time off.

All of the flexibility this bill provides goes to the employer.