A new bill in the House that gives families new opportunities to balance home and work, without fear of losing pay? It sounds too good to be true — and it is. However, the Working Families Flexibility Act, introduced by Martha Roby (R-Ala.), claims to be that bill, when in reality it simply takes away autonomy from employees. It’s clear that the Working Families Flexibility Act will be extremely beneficial for working people with families, provided that they already have a good employer.
The idea behind the Working Families Flexibility Act is a good one: It allows employers to offer workers comp time in place of overtime pay, ideally giving their employees time with their families rather than having to work constantly. One catch: The employee does not get to decide when to take that time off.
Further devils are in the details for this act. It would hinder the flexibility of low-wage employees who don't work in the kinds of white-collar jobs that allow for mobility in getting daily tasks accomplished. Overtime is vital for many Americans in this economy, and to deprive someone of the ability to make that money is to deny them the money they might need to continue to provide for their families. Yet as a writer at Time contends, it’s likely that employers might urge their employees to take the much less expensive compensation time rather than requiring overtime pay.
While there are “safety valves,” those in favor are quick to remind us, other than suing their employer (an expensive activity that few low-income workers have the time, energy, or money for), employees not receiving fair compensation have little recourse other than to continue to receive less for working more.
As Judith Lichtman, of the National Partnership for Women and Families, testified, the bill “magnifies the power imbalance between employer and employee.”
Autonomy for workers is imperative. The need to help out an older family member, attend a child’s sporting event, or deal with a medical emergency does not disappear when a worker is on the clock. However, claims of autonomy through flexibility are void when the employer has the discretion of deciding one’s compensation and use of that “flexibility.” The Working Families Flexibility Act gives employers even greater power and ensures no accountability to the workers — everything but what its title claims it does.