Real workplace flexibility is good for workers. The Working Families Flexibility Act, which the House is scheduled to vote on today, is not.
In many ways, our country still has 20th century workplaces in a 21st Century world. We've come a long way when it comes to recognizing the kinds of workplace policies people need to meet the dual demands of job and family, and we’ve made progress in updating public policies and private sector practices. But most policy advances have been at the state and local levels, and the private sector progress, while impressive, still leaves tens of millions of workers behind.
So the need for Congress to act – to advance policies that will make our workplaces more fair and family friendly for all workers, no matter where they live and what jobs they hold – is urgent. But bills like the Working Families Flexibility Act, which is designed to look like it will help but would, in fact, harm workers, are not the answer.
A better name for this bill is the “Employer Flexibility Act,” because it would offer working people less flexibility, less pay and less time. It would give employers more control over their employees’ time and money. It would take money out of the hands of working people by setting up a false and dangerous choice between overtime pay now and time off later when they work more than 40 hours in a week.
It does this by giving employers the right to hold onto employees’ overtime wages for months, while giving employees no guarantee that they will be able to take their ‘comp time’ when they need it. So, an employee who works 60 hours of overtime in the first quarter of the year has no guarantee that she will be able to take her comp time a few months later, to help her mother recover from surgery, care for the baby she is expecting, or help settle her son into a new school. Her employer can thwart her plans by claiming her absence would unduly disrupt the business – even though that time is hers, paid for in overtime hours that were spent away from her family.
Under the Working Families Flexibility Act, if the worker’s request to use her comp time is denied, she would have no recourse. She would have to report to work on the days she hoped to take off, or risk losing her job. She could request that the unused time be cashed out – but, even then, the employer would have up to 30 days to comply.
Giving employers license to demand extra hours while denying workers control over their schedules is a step backward, not a solution for hardworking families. The Working Families Flexibility Act would undermine workers’ ability to make ends meet, plan for family time, and have predictability, stability and true flexibility at work.
This bill is an empty promise that no member of Congress who cares about working people should support. And it’s not the only smoke-and-mirrors legislation opponents of working families are trying to advance this year. Similarly deceptive and harmful policy proposals include: the Strong Families Act, which would reward companies that offer paid leave with small tax credits while doing nothing for any hardworking person who hasn’t won the “boss lottery;” the Workplace Advancement Act, which would provide false security and no real protections from retaliation to workers who discuss their salaries with colleagues; and “safe harbor” initiatives, which would exempt businesses that offer even the most minimal paid sick time from local, state and federal paid sick time standards.
Members of Congress who truly want to make life better for working families should stop spending their time crafting and advancing deceptive bills designed to fool workers who need real progress, and instead support tested policies like the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would establish an affordable and comprehensive national paid family and medical leave insurance program; the Healthy Families Act, which would create a national paid sick days standard; and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for discussing their wages, recognize good businesses, support small businesses and enhance enforcement of fair pay laws.
Those bills would bring meaningful progress, creating new economic security and opportunity for working families. The Working Families Flexibility Act would not. A vote for it is a vote against America’s workers.
Shabo is vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.