Working Families Flexibility Act: Is It Time to Rethink Labor Law?

The level of pay and work schedule should be an agreement made between an employee and employer. Government dictating standards in the name of fairness keeps the individual parties from truly pursuing their own self interests, a necessary component of a free market system. H.R. 1406, The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, introduced by Martha Roby (R-AL), seeks to ease the government's grip on the relationship between the two parties by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to allow employers to offer compensatory time to their employees instead of mandating that overtime payment be made.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is credited with establishing the 40-hour work week through introducing a national minimum wage and the guarantee of "time-and-a-half" pay for overtime worked up to an additional four hours. But there are many downsides to the law that instituted a minimum wage and the accompanying overtime payment rules. In setting these "fair" standards, the government also put uniform restrictions on employment agreements making it so that individual circumstances could not be easily accommodated.

Proponents of the standards will point to today's norm of the 40-hour work week as reason enough for government involvement. And when they do, most people will agree with them because the law has been in place for so long that we don't even want to think about what it would be like without a uniform work week. At best, we conjure up the horror stories of forced child labor and myths about robber barons. We forget that the 40-hour work week was not a new concept in 1938 and that it was adopted more than a decade earlier in a time of free-market, limited-government America.

Per its name, the Fair Labor Standards Act sought to establish "fair" labor laws by establishing uniform rules for hours and pay. In doing so it undermines the individual and their subjective value. The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 does not take on all of the problems at once, which could be done by repealing the minimum wage entirely, but rather focuses solely on overtime in an attempts to bring choice back into the equation. It may not be the perfect legislative move to put decision making back in the hands of those actually involved in the forming of an employment contract, but it's a step in the right direction.