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Proposal Would Qualify More Tennesseans for Overtime Pay

The U.S. Department of Labor wants to raise the threshold for salaried workers to receive mandatory overtime from their employer. Credit: phaewilk/morguefile.com
The U.S. Department of Labor wants to raise the threshold for salaried workers to receive mandatory overtime from their employer. Credit: phaewilk/morguefile.com
August 24, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - As many Tennessee companies ask employees to do more with less in the post-recession era, many of those workers are not being compensated for working overtime.

As it stands, salaried workers can be denied overtime if they make a little more than $23,000 a year. The threshold hasn't been raised since the 1970s and the U.S. Secretary of Labor wants to raise the cap.

Michelle McIntyre, outreach manager with the Center for Effective Government, explains why it's important.

"By raising it, you would be able to give a bump to working Americans and the middle class by moving it from such a low number to a more moderate number which is $50,440," says McIntyre.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 30 percent of Tennessee workers would directly benefit from raising the threshold. Overtime pay equals time and a half of an employee's hourly rate. The Department of Labor is accepting public comment on the issue until Sept. 4, before it makes a final decision. Some employers argue they will be unable to afford the additional pay and it will make it difficult for small businesses to succeed.

McIntyre points out many companies, particularly those in unionized regions or professions, already pay overtime for salaried employees. If your company doesn't, McIntyre says, it's important to know your rights.

"If you work 40 hours and your boss doesn't want to pay you overtime, you can leave," he says. "You don't have to work that overtime, because essentially you're working for free."

McIntyre says if you are supposed to receive overtime, keep track of your hours on your own, utilizing a time sheet or app on your smartphone.

"You need to make sure you're tracking your hours of overtime, so your pay in the end actually reflects the correct time," says McIntyre. "We've seen in case after case and time after time employers have simply paid their workers straight time, not actually the higher wage."

The proposal would qualify at least five million more Americans for overtime. McIntyre says a majority of Americans who would benefit from raising the overtime threshold are women, two-thirds of them with children. Many of those are black and Latino.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN