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Will expansion of overtime eligibility reduce flexible work options? Is that bad?

The U.S. Department of Labor recently enacted new regulations that will increase the number of workers eligible to receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week.  Under the new regulations, among other changes, employees that earn less than $47,476 per year must receive overtime pay—under the old regulations that threshold was $23,660.  Some opponents to this change are arguing that employers will decrease flexible work options in response to the overtime expansion.  Supporters of the change argue that there is no reason why employers would need to decrease flexible work options.  What is perhaps more interesting than this debate, however, is whether “flexible work options” are all their cracked up to be for many workers.

Opponents of the new regulations believe that employers will now need to keep better track of the amount of time that their previously overtime-exempt (now non-exempt) employees work.  This is because employers will have to pay more of their employees overtime pay if the employees work more than 40 hours in a week.  Thus, the argument goes, employers will insist on traditional time tracking practices like requiring workers to clock-in-and-out at a physical work location at the same times every day.

Proponents of the new regulations retort that current technologies and modern workplace policies permit employers to keep track of their employees’ hours without any need to reduce flexible work options.  For instance, some workers can telework remotely on laptops and clock-in-and-out at home.

What is perhaps more interesting about this debate, however, is whether “flexible work options” are all they’re cracked up to be in the first place.  Flexible work options, among other things, allow workers to remain connected to the office after business hours with smart phones and laptops.  While flexible work options appeal to workers who want to leave work early and finish an assignment at home; many workers end up feeling compelled to stay connected to work after business hours even if they would prefer to focus on spending time with family and loved ones after hours.  For example, many employers expect their exempt employees to check and respond to their email at all hours of the day.  By forcing employers to compensate some workers more for this after-hours work, the result might be that employers will require fewer workers to work after hours and these workers will, in turn, have more time to spend with their families—many workers may welcome this outcome.

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