By Stacie H. Whitacre
Two wage-and-hour-law changes currently are wending their way through Congress. One seeks to clarify and revisit which workers are entitled to overtime; another will allow employers to substitute compensation time paid hours off for up to 160 hours of overtime pay per year (see p. 10 for more details).
Whenever the government starts tinkering with labor law, expect furor from all sides of the political spectrum; these proposals are no exception.
For instance, liberal writer Molly Ivins, quickly sounded the alarm in her syndicated column: With such a smarm of butter over their visages do the Republicans go on about the joys of flexibility and freedom of choice that you would have to read the bills for maybe 30 seconds before figuring out they're about repealing the 40-hour workweek and ending overtime.
Contrast that with an article from the owner-oriented Entrepreneur magazine:
The changes would mean higher payroll costs for businesses, especially for those who have several employees who work long hours but still make salaries less than the $22,100 ... add to that the additional one-time cost estimated at $535 million to $680 million for businesses to implement the new rules in employee-compensation programs, and the bill really starts to soar.
So, to summarize: The proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are bad because people will lose overtime protection. On the other hand, the changes are bad because too many people would gain overtime protection.
The truth, as it is with most controversial issues, is probably not as bad as either side suggests. And its not too late to complain (or offer praise or suggestions) the proposal to clarify overtime rules is in a period of public comment (visit www.regulations.gov to offer your input). The comp-time bill still is being discussed in Congress, so contacting your representative could help.
Regardless of whether the proposals, as written, are a good idea, most people do agree that revision of the decades-old, confusingly written FLSA is long overdue. The Department of Labor last revised job descriptions in 1949 (when leg men and straw bosses existed), and the annual income limit, under which full-time employees automatically are entitled to overtime (regardless of job function) currently $8,060 dates back to 1975, before many workers, especially low-wage workers, were born.
Weeding out the confusing language will help misclassified employees could sue for years of back wages plus penalties, even if their managers mistakes were honest. Making sure business owners at least understand the rules is a logical, nonpartisan way to kick off the inevitable debates.