House advances overtime pay legislation

The Working Families Flexibility Act, H.R. 1406, would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow companies to pay workers for overtime with time off from work — under current law, companies can only pay wages for overtime.

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Current law does allow government workers to be paid with time off, a point Republicans stressed during Tuesday's debate on the rule.

"If the policy works for our public service employees, it will work for our private sector employees as well," Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said. "Fair is fair."

GOP supporters of the bill argue that employers and employees would have to reach an agreement before those workers can be paid with time away from work and does not allow companies to decide this on their own. The bill also includes language allowing workers to opt out of these arrangements whenever they want, and a provision requiring companies to provide a 30-day notice if they plan to end the policy.

Nonetheless, Democrats argued that the legislation would undermine the 40-hour workweek set in the Fair Labor Standards Act by giving companies control. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) argued that companies could use it to force workers to accept time off instead of overtime pay for overtime hours worked.

"If this bill were to become law, employers would be able to save a couple bucks by essentially requiring people, in effect, to take comp time instead of overtime pay if they want extra hours," Polis said.

Polis also argued that the bill would effectively let companies take out interest-free loans from their workers. Under the bill, workers who save up overtime hours for time away from work will be paid at the end of the year for any unused comp time, but with no interest on the withheld wages.

Foxx dismissed that by noting that government workers face the same issue and don't get interest on withheld pay.

"Government employees do not get interest paid on the time that they eventually get paid for instead of comp time, so we are not setting up a double standard here," Foxx said.

Democrats also argued that the bill would give companies some control over when workers can take time off, as it says time can be used if it "does not unduly disrupt the operations of the employer." But Foxx dismissed that as well by saying Democrats have no real arguments against a bill that sets up the same privilege that government workers now have.

"If the bill is so bad … and it gives to the people in the private sector the same rights and privileges that people in the public sector have, then why are my colleagues not trying to roll back those rights for the public sector?"

Polis also took a shot at Republicans for only voting on the rule for the bill Tuesday and waiting to pass it on Wednesday. He and other Democrats have pounced on the GOP for scheduling several light weeks of work in Congress and said today's schedule seems to go against the GOP leadership's promise of a full May schedule.

"Under this current legislative agenda, Congress wouldn't even come close to qualifying for overtime," Polis said.

After the rule vote, the House was done with legislative work for the day; it will debate the bill and an amendment on Wednesday and then hold votes on both.