The American workplace is changing – today's businesses are demanding their employees take on more work and longer hours. Many of us work nine to five, but we're still connected to the office via technology long after the workday is over. We want to go on that week-long vacation, but we feel we'll be penalized. In addition, many of us are told that we must work these long hours without any additional pay.
Yet, taking advantage of benefits like comp time and vacation pay is critical not only to our physical and mental health, but to a company's bottom line by allowing workers to be more productive when at the office and reducing employee burnout. And most people do not realize that they are likely entitled to overtime pay, even if they are paid on a salary basis. Nor do they know that a company can't require the overtime to be pre-approved before it is paid, or that they are entitled to overtime on commissions or bonuses, not just straight pay.
The key is to ensure that businesses are following the legal guidelines when it comes to compensation. Therefore, as an employee, you need to ask – are you being paid correctly?
- Overtime pay – The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires every employer to pay employees time and half for all hours worked over 40. This is the rule for all employees, regardless of whether they are salaried or hourly. Hourly employees are entitled to be paid overtime pay on their hourly work, their travel time during the day, for breaks less than 30 minutes (including lunches they work through) and an additional amount if they are paid commissions, bonuses or shift differentials. Salaried employees are also entitled to overtime, unless the employer can fit the employee into very narrow exemptions – like the employee has the ability to make policy decisions or can hire and fire employees. Most employers deny employees overtime pay. If you have a question as to whether you are entitled to overtime, schedule to speak with an attorney at no charge today here.
- Vacation pay – The United States is the only developed nation that doesn't guarantee paid vacation for workers. In fact, one in four workers has no paid vacation or paid holidays. If employees are offered vacation, Right Management reports 66 percent don't use all of their benefit days.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as the State of Georgia do not require compensation for time off, and vacation pay is a matter of agreement between the company and its employee. In addition, while many states have ruled unused vacation time is to be paid out when an employee resigns, in Georgia, the legislation is silent on the issue unless accrued vacation pay has been designated in the employee contract.
- Compensatory pay – Compensatory pay, or comp time, is being hotly debated among legislators. Currently, federal law states that employers must pay non-exempt workers 1.5 times their hourly wage for every hour they work over 40 hours in a week. However, the House of Representatives recently passed the Working Families Flexibility Act which states that workers in the private sector be offered the chance to take either comp time instead if they work more than 40 hours, just as employees in the public sector are.
Many supporters believe the act will give employees the work-life balance they desire and allow businesses to save money on overtime pay. Others feel it's detrimental as employees will feel pressured to accept time off instead of pay and be forced to work unpredictable hours.
- Sick pay – Although paid sick time can increase productivity and stop the spread of contamination among coworkers, there are no laws protecting workers' sick pay nationally or in the state of Georgia. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 39 percent of American workers do not have the option of sick pay, and in low-wage industries, that rises to 79 percent. However, companies may be subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), requiring 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical conditions.
As with vacation pay, if a company chooses to offer this option to its employees, it must comply with its established policy and be defined in the employee's contract. If you leave a position and are not provided with accrued sick pay as expected, refer to your contract for the company's guidelines.
As employees work longer hours, stress levels are through the roof. Therefore, ensuring our workers are being properly compensated and offered the time off they need is critical to the health of both employees and the economy as a whole.