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1999: Flexible workweek would be useful tool

While working on golf courses has many rewards, few would envy the work schedule of superintendents. Long hours are an inherent part of the profession and can make life difficult. Time away from family is often cited as one of the greatest challenges of the job.

Likewise, it can be tough to keep hourly workers on the job and motivated in an environment where weather, the time of year, and golfer events can substantially inflate the time commitment needed for a given day or week or month. Indeed, one major drawback to attracting younger workers into part time and seasonal work is their reluctance to report to work at 6-7 a.m. and to give up their weekends as well.

Imagine being able to legally make arrangements with employees to work extra hours during a busy week, with up to 10 of those hours worked in exchange for shorter hours the next week. Or allowing a loyal employee to punch out to deal with a family emergency on a Friday, knowing they can make up the time the next week without having to worry about lost income. When budgets are tight, it might be an attractive option for courses and its workers.

The Family Friendly Workplace Act in the U.S. Senate, and the Working Families Flexibility Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, would give added flexibility to employers to help workers successfully juggle family and work responsibilities.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) has changed little since it was enacted in 1938. Existing wage and hour laws are based on a 40-hour workweek. Hourly employees who work more than 40 hours must be paid overtime. Compensatory time off, even if desired by the exempt employee as well as the employer, is not legal.

U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.) called the FSLA, “one of the most outdated workplace regulatory schemes faced by businesses and employees.” For the past few years, Congress has been debating action to relieve workers and employers from inflexible rules that are based upon an assumption that money is always more valuable than time.

The pending bills would give employers and employees more options regarding overtime pay and compensatory time off. A compensatory time-off arrangement could be agreed upon between employers and employees, although no employee could be required to take compensatory time off instead of overtime pay. Compensatory time off would be awarded at a rate of at least 11?2 hours for each hour of overtime. Employees would be allowed to decide for each workweek if they want overtime compensated with overtime pay or by accruing compensatory time-off.

Employees could not accrue more than 160 hours of compensatory time off, and compensatory time off not taken by the end of the year would be converted into overtime pay. Compensatory time could also be converted to cash by the employer during the year as long as 30 days written notice is given to the employee.

The Senate bill also would give employers and employees the option of using an 80-hour, biweekly work program. Of 80 hours worked over a two-week period, 10 hours could be shifted anywhere within the two weeks; a workweek as short as 30 hours could be followed by one of 50 hours, with no lost pay or overtime paid.

These options would be available after the first year of employment and could not be forced as a condition of employment. The law would provide strong penalties for intimidating employees or coercing them to agree to the biweekly schedule or to take overtime pay or use compensatory time off.

The pending bills have been around for several years and have the support of many co-sponsors. The Working Families Flexibility Act is the same bill that was passed successfully in the House during the last Congress. Labor groups are opposed to the bills because of the possibility of coercion by employers, despite strong penalties. Changes to the law could provide superintendents with useful new tools for helping out good workers or for conserving tight budget dollars.

In other news:

Minimum wage action: The federal minimum wage was last increased in 1997, to $5.15 per hour. Several bills to increase it again were introduced in Congress this year but saw no activity, although there has been interest in attaching an increase to one of the spending bills.

Legislation that would raise the state minimum wage above the federal level was introduced in at least 30 states this year. Increases were enacted in Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, and vetoed in Maine and New Mexico. A few states debated bills regarding a minimum wage for minors, but no changes to the laws were passed.

Other bills considered in the states offered incentives to pay above the minimum wage, or prohibited local jurisdictions from setting a higher minimum wage.

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