By Rep Erik Paulsen
At one point or another, most of us have faced the dilemma of having to take time off of work to be with our families. Whether you're a working father forced to use limited sick time to care for an elderly relative, or a young mother who must use up precious vacation time to volunteer at her child's school, you undoubtedly appreciate the importance of flexibility in regard to employee leave.
We all have extremely busy lives, and many families are finding it harder to balance the ever-increasing demands of their work with their time to care and be with their family. Since 1938, federal law has allowed public sector workers to swap overtime pay for compensatory time off. Often referred to as "comp time," this option allows public sector employees the flexibility they need in order to satisfy commitments to both work and their families.
However, the same federal law prohibits the benefit of comp time for private employees. It shouldn't have to be this way. Many Minnesotans would gladly consider new options for how their work is compensated if it meant more time with family. The key here is to provide choice and flexibility. Why should Washington stand in the way of how private companies compensate their employees?
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation to provide families and workers the flexibility they need to balance work and home life. The Working Families Flexibility Act updates the 75-year old Fair Labor Standards Act to permit employers in the private sector to offer their employees the same choice that public employees already enjoy. Opening up the opportunity to receive overtime pay in the form of additional time off instead of extra cash wages would give private sector employees the flexibility that their public sector counterparts have enjoyed for 30 years.
This legislation does not change the standard rate of overtime pay, as it still requires all employers to pay a rate of one-and-one-half times the employee's regular rate for any time accrued beyond forty hours per week. Nor does it harm employers, who will not lose any work time from their anticipated labor force. Some opponents of this proposed change argue that it creates additional red tape for businesses, but this charge is simply not true. Businesses would not be negatively impacted in anyway other than allowing their employees an alternative compensation package -- participation is completely voluntary.
Furthermore, this legislation won't affect employees who would like to continue receiving more traditional time-and-a-half compensation in the form of cash wages for their overtime work. If the option of earning extra wages is the most appropriate for your family's needs, then you are free to continue receiving the same benefits you currently enjoy. Employees who prefer to be compensated in the form of additional time off are given the flexibility to make that choice themselves.
As the father of four daughters and the husband of a working wife and mom, I understand the importance of flexibility and having options when trying to manage a family schedule. A simple change like this, which will provide families with more freedom to manage their own time, will more effectively serve the diverse needs of today's employees and their families.