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Martha Roby's Curious Argument on Comp Time

Brenden Timpe

Representative Martha Roby has an op-ed in Politico today making the case for her “Working Families Flexibility Act.” The bill would allow businesses to pay their workers in comp time, rather than higher wages, for the overtime hours they work.

Roby has argued that her bill would make it easier for workers who want flexible schedules. As proof, she offers the example of Karen DeLoach, a bookkeeper who works at an accounting firm in Alabama.

Karen recently approached her boss to request swapping her earned overtime pay for comp time so she could go on her church’s mission trip to Nicaragua without interrupting her regular paycheck.

Montgomery is the state capital, and Karen had heard her state employee friends talk about how they swapped overtime pay for comp time in their jobs. She never imagined a similar arrangement at a private business would be against the law. But that’s what her boss informed her. To his credit, Karen’s boss was willing to offer the flexibility of comp time, but he wasn’t going to break the law.

Rep. Roby leaves out what happens next, but Karen included the rest of the story in her testimony before a U.S. House committee. While she was unable to take comp time, Karen’s bosses let her take unpaid time off for the mission trip. It’s arguably the best possible outcome; rather than waiting months to collect her overtime pay, as she would have done if she used it as comp time, she got her cash up front. And it was all possible because her boss is apparently a pretty nice guy.

Of course, that’s the crux of the issue with the Working Families Flexibility Act. Labor law wasn’t meant for workers like Karen DeLoach and their courteous, thoughtful employers. It was meant to protect people like Juana, the minimum-wage cook with an employer that refused to pay her on time, or Sergio, whose bosses yelled at him if he stopped to rest during his 12-hour shift cleaning up asbestos.

Rep. Roby’s bill would shift even more power from these workers to their abusive employers. While employees would theoretically have the ability to choose between overtime pay and comp time, employers are in a strong position to guide workers to their desired outcome.

And once a worker has agreed to a comp time arrangement, the employer would have ultimate control over when they could take it. Employees can be forced to wait as long as 13 months before they get their compensation. While a worker can request to cash out their comp time, they still must wait as long as 30 days to get the pay they are rightfully owed.

Rep. Roby’s proposal is a great deal for businesses, which get more flexibility and an interest-free loan from their workers. It may even seem harmless to a bookkeeper who wants comp time to take a trip abroad. But what if your boss isn’t quite so nice, and you need that overtime to cover your rent? Or put food on the table? Or buy your child’s school supplies?

For those workers, the Working Families Flexibility Act is just another point in your employer’s favor.