Achieving a Family-Friendly Workplace

Mitch McConnell
Mitch McConnell

Countless Kentuckians have become increasingly familiar over the past few years with a similar problem: more and more to do, with less and less time to do it. We all know working moms who are stretched between working a job and supporting their kids, and Baby Boomers with elderly parents who require care and attention.

Too many hourly workers employed by private employers are forced to make tough choices when trying to balance work and family.

The makeup of our workforce has changed dramatically. Today, 60 percent of working households have two working parents. Sixty-six percent of single moms and 79 percent of single dads work as well.

The American workplace has also evolved dramatically since the industrial workplace of the post-Depression era. Yet the labor laws written during this time period are still in place today.

That’s why I recently introduced the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act. This bill will allow flexible workplace arrangements such as compensatory time and flexible-credit hour agreements, which are currently available to employees working for the federal government, to be extended to hourly employees at many private businesses.

Currently, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibits employers from offering compensatory time to their hourly employees. My reforms would allow private employers to offer compensatory time to employees at a rate of one-and-one-half hours for every hour of overtime work. It would be a completely voluntary process—an employee can still choose to receive monetary payment as overtime compensation. This bill simply gives employees the option to choose paid time off for overtime work instead.

My bill also institutes a flexible credit-hour program, which allows the employee to work excess hours beyond what he or she is typically required to work in order to accrue hours to be taken off at a later time. This option is for employees who do not get the opportunity to work overtime, but still want a way to build up hours to use as paid leave.

Like comp time, the flexible credit-hour program is voluntary. Employers would not be mandated to offer the flexible workplace arrangements, just as employees are not mandated to choose these benefits rather than direct compensation for overtime work. Both parties are free to choose what works best for them.

It’s important to note that the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act would protect employees by prohibiting employers from coercing employees into accepting or rejecting comp or flex time agreements. It also would in no way alter the forty-hour work week, or how overtime is calculated.

Flexible work arrangements like this have been available to federal government employees since 1978. In fact, family-friendly comp time arrangements have been so successful in the federal workplace, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order in 1994 to extend them to parts of the federal government that were not yet using them.

If federal law already provides these beneficial workplace arrangements to federal and state workers, why shouldn’t we make them available to all employees?

Some companies, like Dell, Bank of America, and GE already provide flexible workplace arrangements to their salaried employees who are exempt from the FLSA. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that workplaces like these are also among the highest-ranked companies at which to work. Now is the time to allow private companies to provide the benefits of flexible arrangements like comp time to their hourly workers as well.

After all, it’s not just workers at some places of employment who are parents or family members who need to be able to take time off to attend a function for their child’s school, see a son or daughter’s sporting event, or care for an aging parent—it’s workers at all places of employment.

A 2010 study conducted by the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that work flexibility programs can “reduce turnover and improve recruitment, [increase] the productivity of an employer’s workforce, and are associated with improved employee health and decreased absenteeism.”

Another study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Managers found that women’s responsibilities have increased at work and men’s responsibilities have increased at home, resulting in 60 percent of wage and salaried employees feeling they don’t have enough time to spend with their loved ones.

My bill is endorsed by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and is worthy of bipartisan support. These are commonsense reforms that will help Kentucky’s working families. After all, if you decide that time off is what you really need, there’s no reason Washington should stand in the way.

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