House bill would allow private-sector workers to trade overtime for time off

The House next week will start work on legislation that could give private-sector workers a chance at additional time away from their jobs to be with their families.

The bill, from Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), would give private-sector employees the option of being compensated for overtime work in the form of extra time off, instead of overtime wages. The aim of the bill is to give families more time together when it's needed, such as when a child is sick.

Roby's bill meets a goal that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) set out in a February speech on "making life work" for families. Last month, Cantor said the House is expected to pass Roby's Working Families Flexibility Act sometime in April.

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In his February speech, Cantor said working parents — particularly those paid by the hour — have less time to help their families, and sometimes could use extra time rather than extra pay.

In 1985, Congress approved a bill that gave government workers the option of being "paid" for overtime work with extra time off. But under current law, workers in the private sector don't have this option — if they work extra hours, the law dictates that they must be paid a wage.

In February, Cantor said it's unfair that only government workers have this flexibility to make it easier to manage family issues.

"Imagine if we simply chose to give all employees and employers this option," Cantor said. "A working mom could work overtime this month and use it as time off next month without having to worry about whether she'll be able to take home enough money to pay the rent."

Roby's bill would provide this flexibility. Under the pending bill, private-sector employees who work 10 overtime hours could either be paid at a "time and a half" rate, or convert the extra time into 15 hours of paid time off, according to a Roby aide.

This arrangement would be allowed under voluntary agreements struck by companies and their workers, which now are illegal. The bill would also prevent companies from forcing workers to take the time off instead of the extra pay.

"I talk to working moms and dads all the time who say they need more time to spend with family or to take care of responsibilities outside of work," Roby told The Hill. "But right now the law prohibits private business from allowing comp time options for their employees, even though it is legal in the public sector."

Roby's office said the bill would be introduced early next week, and is expected to be marked up the following week before the House passes it later in April.