We are a nation of doers. For over two centuries, Americans have grown up in a society that rewards hard work, protects innovation, and allows its citizens to constantly break new barriers. The key element to this success rests on freedom and the ability of individuals to strive toward achieving their dreams and making their children's futures better than their own. But as our nation continues to evolve and our duties blend together, our labor laws must adapt as well.
Today, smartphones, tablets, and the internet have allowed people to conduct business from anywhere at any time. But as we continue to progress, many families find it harder to balance the ever-increasing demands of their work with their desire to care for and be with their family.
If technology and communications can adapt to people's modern lifestyles, then why can't our labor laws follow suit? Private-sector businesses continue to live under an outdated federal mandate that says the only way to compensate for overtime is through cash wages.
It doesn't have to be this way. Many Americans would gladly entertain new options for how their work is compensated if it meant more time with family. The key here is to provide choice and flexibility.
That's why my friend and colleague Congresswoman Martha Roby introduced a new bill to help many Americans better balance family and work. H.R. 1406 -- the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 -- will give private-sector employees (under a voluntary agreement with their employers) the opportunity to choose paid time off as compensation for overtime hours worked.
Many myths have been circulated since this proposal was first introduced, and all of them are focused on misleading workers in order to keep our business environments operating under an inflexible and outdated standard. Some have argued that this bill allows employers to control a worker's schedule by determining when an employee may take time off and that it weakens worker protections by giving employers the upper hand. This could not be further from the truth.
The Working Families Flexibility Act is merely a tool to provide workers with new alternatives to make their lives better and give them the power to determine the work schedules that will most benefit their hectic lives. Furthermore, all existing enforcement remedies -- including action by the U.S. Department of Labor -- are available to workersif an employer fails to pay cash wages for overtime hours or unreasonably refuses to allow workers to use accrued comp time.
The third -- and perhaps most egregious -- myth circulating is that the bill is a pay cut for workers without any attendant guarantee of time off. The decision to receive comp time is completely voluntary and no worker can be intimidated or forced to accept comp time instead of cash wages. All protections and standards have been put in place for the benefit of the employee, and their rights to negotiate different compensation options as they wish. This is not about mandates; it's about flexibility.
The key to all of this is flexibility. All that this legislation will do is provide businesses and their employees with the freedom to manage their time under their own mutual agreements. What we are doing is providing options, and in no way does this legislation deny workers the income and extra pay that they have earned in accordance with the existing protections in the Fair Labor Standards Act.
In 1985, Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and Steny Hoyer supported giving public-sector employees the flexibility to choose comp time, and the opportunity for these workers to choose it has been the standard ever since. Now, nearly 30 years later, this legislation would provide the same freedom to private-sector employees.
We all have extremely busy lives. The choices we face often pull at our heartstrings and cause us to wonder whether that extra meeting at the end of the day was more important than a ballet recital or doctor's appointment. By passing this legislation, this will be one less barrier.
Mrs. Ellmers is serving her second term as U.S. Congresswoman representing North Carolina's second district in the House of Representatives. She currently serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is Chairman of the Republican Women's Policy Committee.