Monday, July 6, 2015

Is it time for more overtime?

Last week President Obama announced new regulations that will expand the availability of overtime. Overtime is restricted to hourly employees, along with salaried employees who lack managerial responsibilities.  Defining the latter is dicy, so historically eligibility has been determined via a salary threshold.  Right now overtime is limited to those managers making less than $455/week.  The new regs kick that up to $970/week.

On the surface this would mean that about 5 million additional employees will now be eligible to collect overtime.  But we should expect employers and workers to make adjustments.  Under the old rules, exempt employees had an implicit understanding with their employer -- even though we do not get overtime, we are involved in a fair exchange where we provide so much work in so many hours and in return we receive so much income.

Employers looking to avoid the extra overtime charges have two options: cut hours so that they do not have to pay overtime rates or demand more work to be completed in the existing hours.  Assuming the overall workload stays the same, the first option will make sense for firms with low training costs and low spends on employee benefits (benefits are typically paid on a per person basis, rather than on a per hour basis).  Such firms can cut hours per person and hire more people.  The second option, which will usually involve downsizing, makes more sense when training new help is costly and benefits are expensive.

In deciding which course to take, employers have to make sure that they retain employees.  Whether they cut hours or increase workloads, employees will be worse off than before unless they start receiving some extra overtime pay.  Also, whatever deal is reached with the workers who are newly eligible will have to apply to those who were already eligible.  Bottom line: I expect to see adjustments along all three dimensions -- overtime hours worked (lower), workload expectations (higher), and overtime income received for newly eligible employees (higher).

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