Comp Time in Lieu of Overtime

Q.  An employee worked several hours of overtime last week. Can I offer him compensatory time off, to use in the future, rather than pay him overtime?

A.  Currently, unless you are a public-sector employer, the answer is no. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees who are not exempt must be paid overtime pay (one and one-half times their regular pay rate) for all hours worked over 40 in a work week.

That may soon change, however.

Just yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow certain employees to take paid time off rather than receive overtime pay when working more than 40 hours in a week.  Dubbed the Working Families Flexibility Act, the Bill would allow employees to accrue up to 160 hours of compensatory time in a year, at a rate of 1.5 hours for each hour of overtime worked.

The Bill contains some guidance on how to administer such a policy. The employer may provide compensatory time to employees in lieu of overtime pay only if the arrangement is agreed to through a collective bargaining agreement or  in a written agreement between the employer and employee.  The employee must be allowed to use the comp time within a reasonable period after the request, so long as the comp time does not “unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.”

To become eligible to participate in a comp time program, employees will have to have worked at least 1,000 hours of continuous employment in the 12-month period preceding the date of the agreement or receipt of comp time.

Any unused comp time would have to be paid back by the employer at the end of the year (or upon 30 days of notice by the employee in the case of accrued time in excess of 80 hours). Significantly, an employee who has accrued compensatory time off also must be paid for the unused comp time upon termination, regardless of whether the termination was voluntary or involuntary.  In this way, comp time would need to be handled differently from accrued vacation time, which is not necessarily subject to pay upon termination, depending on state law.

It remains to be seen whether this Bill will become actual law, or if it does, whether it will be modified to pass the Senate. If it does pass through the Senate, however, the President has pledged to sign it.

If this option becomes available to private-sector employees in the future, employers will have to take a hard look at their processes to determine whether offering comp time in lieu of overtime makes sense for their organization. While some employers may applaud this initiative as a cost-saving method and a way to provide flexibility to employees, others may see such a program as an administrative burden.

– Tracey E. Diamond