There’s a bit of a myth floating around our practices and profession that if an employee works over their regularly scheduled hours, it is okay to let them use that “comp time” accumulated to leave early the next day, for example, or come in late another day, rather than paying overtime. While this may seem like a simple trading off of hours worked, it is actually only “legal” for government workers and employers, where it has been an option for 35 years. But in the private sector—that’s most of us out there—we are breaking the law by allowing our employees to use this “comp time” instead of paying them overtime for extra hours worked.
All of that might change, however, as the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved legislation on April 17, 2013, called the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 (H.R. 1406). This proposed bill would “amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 by allowing private-sector employers to offer employees the option of taking comp time in lieu of overtime pay.” (SHRM)
As such is the case with just about anything involving the government, there are two sides of the story. Those who approve the proposed legislation feel that it will help Americans balance family and work. However, those who oppose the bill feel that conflict will arise when it comes time for the employee to choose when to USE their hard-earned comp time. Under the bill, it will be the employee’s choice to earn this comp time, and a written agreement would be put into place that offers the employee the choice to withdraw from the comp time agreement at any time, allowing the employee to cash out the comp time accrued and receive overtime pay within 30 days. Yet it is not clear whether the bill will address the factors involved in determining when to use the comp time. The article only states “as long as the time off would not unduly disrupt the business, much like when requesting vacation time.” As we all know, the process of requesting and approving vacation time can be tricky if not difficult in a practice where it seems we are always understaffed and multiple employees request to take the same time off, such as holidays.
The most important thing to know right now, however, is that if you are in the private sector (as most of us are in veterinary medicine) then you should NOT be giving your employees the option to use comp time. Traditionally this conversation comes up when the business wants or needs to reduce overtime pay that is strangling the budget, and when an employee seems fine with trading the time. Under the current FLSA legislation, employers do not have this option…they must pay hourly, non-exempt employees overtime according to the federal and their state regulations.
For more information on this topic, visit SHRM at http://www.shrm.org/Publications/HRNews/Pages/Comp-Time-Bill-Proposed.aspx.