A win for working parents

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, May 10, 2017

With Mother’s Day approaching, I’m excited to report that my legislation to offer Americans more choice and flexibility with their time in the workplace has passed the House of Representatives.

For the last three Congresses I have sponsored the Working Families Flexibility Act, which removes an outdated and unnecessary federal restriction on the use of compensatory time, or “comp time,” in the private sector.

Here’s how it works: an hourly wage employee would be able to voluntarily enter into an agreement with their employer to put a portion of their accrued overtime toward paid time off instead of extra cash. A working parent could use the “time and a half” overtime they’ve earned to take a paid hour and a half off work if that’s what they’d rather have.

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If you work in the public sector, you’re probably familiar with this comp time system because it is a legal and widely used benefit for government employees. Due to a 1985 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act only applied to government workers, comp time remains illegal in the private sector. Why should the rules be different? Why shouldn’t private sector employees have access to the same comp time benefits that government employees enjoy? The Working Families Flexibility Act fixes this disparity by allowing for greater choice and fairness over how workers use their time.

For some workers and some businesses this could be a valuable option to include in a benefits package. Think about the parents of young children, those caring for elderly parents, or military families with one of the parents deployed. They need more time to be able to take care of personal responsibilities, and a comp time agreement could provide it.

No employee could ever be forced to take paid time off, just like no business would be forced to offer this benefit. The same worker protections that have been part of labor law for decades would remain, and my legislation would actually strengthen anti-coercion penalties. A “cash out” provision ensures that if for some reason a comp time agreement isn’t working out, an employee can always just take the cash, no questions asked.

As a working mom myself, I understand all too well how challenging it can be to balance career and family. Time flexibility is a valuable commodity for working parents, and it’s time our laws and policies caught up to the changing realities of today’s workforce. Congress can’t legislate another hour into the day, but we can update our laws to allow more choice and fairness in how employees use their time. The House of Representatives has taken an important step to do just that by passing the Working Families Flexibility Act.

The bill now goes to the Senate where it’s sponsored by Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Senator Lee is a champion of conservative solutions, and I appreciate his partnership on this issue.

Of course, navigating the Senate can be a difficult prospect. Thankfully, we got a major boost from the White House last week when the Trump Administration issued a statement of support saying the President would sign the bill in its current form. I’m hopeful that with President Trump’s support and Senator Lee’s guidance, we can get this commonsense, conservative legislation signed into law.

There are many hot topics currently in the forefront of American politics: Repealing and replacing Obamacare, the situation with North Korea, and rebuilding our military, just to name a few. In fact, Congress took action on each of those items last week as well. While it may not get the same fanfare as other issues that dominate the news cycle, work-life balance is still a very real issue that affects millions of hardworking moms and dads. As we tackle the bigger ticket items, I believe Congress can also make commonsense changes to the law that benefit everyday Americans.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband Riley and their two children.