Is Overtime a Thing of the Past?

Written by
Peter Dunn

Have you ever felt that employers always have the upper hand on their employees? Do you feel like the laws of this land put the employer first, and the employee second (at best)? Many people feel this way, but there has always been one shining beacon of hope in this land of employment inequity. The one thing is overtime. The boss wants you to work more? Fine, he has to pay you time and a half. Since 1938, time and a half has been a way to compensate America's workers when they are asked (or forced) to go the extra mile. Yet, the origin of the Fair Labor Standards Act (which includes the time and a half provision) was originally intended to punish the employer, not compensate the employee.

Today's worker has come to view overtime as a bonus. Even prior to our current economic crisis, workers would fight tooth and nail to get as much overtime as they can. Many union workers could earn $20k-$30k in overtime, and have been doing so for the last twenty years. And now the recent downturn has ripped these overtime possibilities away from Americans. The problem is that Americans have long come to depend on these overtime benefits. We have stopped viewing overtime has "extra" pay, and have starting viewing income part of our pay. This means that we have adjusted our spending up to this level. Our mortgage payments, car payments, and lifestyles are based on this "extra" pay. But now that extra pay is gone.

But you can't blame the employers now. Why would employers offer overtime right now when they don't have the work to justify it? On top of that, employers have trimmed their workforces to skeleton crews. So, is overtime dead? And if so, for how long? I think overtime is going to be dead for quite some time. Employers are more likely to rehire laid-off workers prior to paying other workers time and a half. Overtime is a byproduct of a thriving economy. Oh, and we currently are the opposite of thriving. Therefore, overtime will only come back once the economy stops sinking, starts to stabilize, and then climbs once again.

We must get used to life without overtime. It won't be around for at least the next 4-5 years. So, what was once a policy to punish employers, is now a policy that will alter the plans of employers to grow.

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