Two Big Issues Facing Working Americans: Overtime Pay and On-Call Scheduling

Oct 12, 2015

NPR Correspondent Yuki Noguchi
Credit Emily Bogle NPR

The way that some American workers are paid has been a front-burner issue recently, with overtime and on-call scheduling both causing some controversy.

In September, the U.S. Department of Labor said it might change the rules about who qualifies for overtime pay. And retailers that give employees unpredictable, on-call work schedules have been served notice in New York and elsewhere that this might be in violation of some laws.

NPR’s Yuki Noguchi has been reporting on workplace issues like these. She’ll be participating in a live, NPR Presents: Family Matters public discussion in New Haven next month about family finances. 

This event is sold out.

WSHU's Tom Kuser spoke with Noguchi and asked her how the Labor Department might redefine the rules for who qualifies for overtime pay.

INTERVIEW EXCERPTS:

How might the Labor Department change the rules for who qualifies for overtime pay?

The Labor Department is basically updating what's known as the Fair Labor Standards Act. That's the statute from the 1930s that brought you the 40 hour work week. The most significant change really is they want to raise the salary threshold of what a worker must be paid annually in order to be exempt from overtime pay. Currently you can make just about $23,600 a year, that's the current threshold, and be considered salary and not be eligible for overtime pay. The Labor Department wants to raise this to over $50,000. That's a very significant jump, and that's one of the things that's getting, probably, the most attention in these rules.

How will this affect the average worker and their families?

That's kind of unclear because it depends on how businesses change their policies. Worker advocates would say this would mean more time or more money for workers, because either you will be paid overtime if you aren't currently and are salaried, or you will be working 40 hours a week and not working any overtime without pay. That's one scenario that's possible. The other scenario that some businesses have been telling me about is that they have a set amount that they can pay their workers. So they may be in the position of converting some of their salaried employees back to hourly, and the businesses are concerned that that might be seen as a demotion to the workers that would be affected. Because the idea of salaried worker, this whole notion of professional versus hourly or blue collar class is something they say could affect morale if they have to go in and make these changes.

Businesses like Starbucks and Urban Outfitters have been singled out for using on-call scheduling policies. What are the real consequences for families dealing with these schedules?

What they say it's really hard to plan your schedule if you're finding out several hours before you have to report into work. It makes child care very difficult, it makes other commitments difficult, and, also, a lot of part-time workers, nowadays, this many years after the great recession, are looking for full-time work. They say it's hard to do that, or get a second job, if your schedule is very unpredictable. But you are seeing a lot of push back against this now. And the New York State Attorney General has requested information about this practice from 13 different retailers and you've seen some retailers sort of back down and pledge to sort of stop this practice.