Q: Sometimes I need my staff to stay late to get an order out, but the overtime is killing me. Can I give them comp time instead of paying overtime?
San Jose, CA
A: The short answer is no. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the official definition of compensatory time is paid time off that is earned in lieu of overtime pay. Only governmental agencies may give their non-exempt employees comp time in place of wages.
But, I have some other ideas that might solve your problem. Since, federal law requires overtime be paid after 40 hours of work in a week, there are times where a private employer can legally offer comp time. For example, a collective bargaining agreement might require overtime if an employee works more than eight hours in a day. Here, offering comp time instead of overtime wouldn’t violate federal overtime laws. Also, having an employee work a compressed work schedule of four 10 hour days rather than five 8 hour days would be permissible under federal law. If you follow the proper procedures, compressed work schedules are even permissible in California where paying overtime is otherwise required after an employee works eight hours.
Q: I applied for a counselor position at a homeless shelter. During the interview I was asked several questions about my religious background and current worship practices. Is that illegal?
A: Such questions are not always illegal. Of course, questions about an applicant’s religious affiliation or beliefs are generally frowned upon as non-job related and in conflict with federal law. However, federal law exempts from coverage religious organizations with respect to hiring based on religion. In other words, an employer whose purpose and character is primarily religious is permitted to prefer to employee persons of the same religion. So, they can ask you questions about your religion. This exception is very limited in scope, and relieves religious organizations only from the ban on employment discrimination based on religion. It does not exempt such organizations from other prohibitions on the other protected bases such as race or sex. State laws often have exemptions for religious organizations, but as the laws vary, it’s a good idea to check your state law if this federal exemption applies in your case.
Americans work an average of 34.4 hours per week. In Japan, 20 hours of overtime is standard.
(This article was originally published in the column Watercooler Counsel. It has been included here with minor updates.)