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We’ve compiled a list of the 100 most commonly asked questions we have received on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime regulations.
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This report, "Top 100 FLSA Q&As", is designed to provide you with an examination of the federal FLSA overtime regulations in Q&A format, including valuable tips for bringing your workplace into compliance in an affordable manner.

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January 14, 2005
What Good Is Comp Time If You Can't Take It?

For a Limited Time receive a FREE Compensation Special Report on the "Top 100 FLSA Q&As," designed to provide you with an examination of the federal FLSA Overtime Regulations in Q&A format, including valuable tips for FLSA Coverage, Salary Level, and Deductions from Pay. Download Now
There's a quip in the HR world that goes like this: A good employer provides generous benefits, while a great employer actually allows employees to use them. Ohio police officers in this case complained that when they accepted compensatory time off instead of overtime pay, they were then barred from using the time.

What happened. Led by a union president/police officer named Robert Beck, a group of 35 current and former police officers for the city of Cleveland sued for violation of their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The group eventually grew to 1,391!

Under their bargaining agreement with the city, adopted in 1995, they had accepted comp time as a substitute for cash, at the rate of time and a half for hours worked beyond 171 in a 28-day period. According to FLSA regulations adopted in 1985, this was an arrangement available only to public employers and only up to 480 hours; overtime hours above that limit must be paid in cash. The city had also written into the bargaining agreement that officers would not be allowed to take comp time if their absence caused the employer to incur overtime costs for substitute officers.

In a federal district court, a judge dismissed the officers' claims, ruling that the need to pay additional overtime created an "undue disruption" of the city's police operations. The officers appealed to the 6th Circuit, which covers Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee.

What the court said. The 1985 FLSA provision, intended to save money for public agencies, has been particularly controversial for police forces. How could municipalities save money, departments like Cleveland's argued, if they incurred still more overtime obligations to allow officers to take comp time? The need to pay more overtime has repeatedly been cited as an "undue disruption" of operations. But the 6th Circuit reviewed opinion letters and interpretive regulations from the Department of Labor, which all said that incurring more overtime obligations did not qualify as an undue disruption. Only such operational difficulties as inadequate police coverage to ensure public safety qualify as disruptions, those documents say. So appellate judges sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration. Beck et al. v. City of Cleveland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, No. 02-3669 (11/12/04).

Point to remember: Document everything! The city could document only comp time officers used, not how much time they accrued. Lacking records, the court had to accept the officers' contention that 85 percent of their requests to take time were rejected.

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