A modest proposal for increasing workplace flexibility

Under current law, employers can give workers time off—paid or unpaid—whenever they want to, for any reason. They can, for example, reward employees who work overtime by giving them unpaid time off at a later date. The employer pays time-and-a-half for the overtime when it’s worked, and then can give an equivalent amount of unpaid time off to repay the employees for the extra time away from their home and family. That’s what a family-friendly employer can do now, with no legislative change required.

But Rep. Martha Roby wants a better, more “flexible” deal for employers. She wants them to be able to withhold the overtime pay until the employee takes compensatory time off (comp time), only paying it out if they can’t agree on a mutually convenient time to take the leave by the end of the year. Roby has introduced a bill, H.R. 1180, “The Working Families Flexibility Act,” to give employers that new right, while pretending to do something for employees.

Why should Rep. Roby stop there? I’d like to propose the “Working Families Super Flexibility Act.” My new bill takes the ideas of H.R. 1180 one step further, providing the greatest possible flexibility to employers and employees. Instead of receiving wages at the time they perform their work, employees can agree to receive credits toward future time off, which will be deposited in a “comp time bank.” The employees will have the freedom to use these credits whenever they want, as long as their employer agrees on the dates for leave. If no mutually convenient time is found before the end of the calendar year, the employees will finally get their earned wages—assuming that the company hasn’t gone out of business (as 400,000 do each year)—and the employer will collect all accrued interest.

Under Rep. Roby’s proposal, H.R. 1180, employers were permitted to withhold only overtime pay, rather than all pay, but why give employers only half a loaf? If it makes sense to withhold overtime pay, why doesn’t it make even more sense to withhold all of the employees’ pay and get that comp time bank filled up quickly? Whereas H.R. 1180 only allows 160 hours of pay to be withheld, my proposal has no limits. Think of all the leave employees could take if their pay were withheld for six months, instead of just one!

I’m kidding, of course. But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear business lobbying groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauding my outrageous idea. After all, it seems like these groups don’t think employers should have to pay anything if they can get employees to agree to it. Think how many more jobs business could create if employers didn’t have to pay the minimum wage, or any wage at all.