Cash or time off?

If Republicans have their way, it’s a choice more companies will be able to offer their hourly-wage employees working overtime.

Voting along party lines, the House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would allow private-sector employers to compensate their overtime-working employees with paid time off instead of paying them time-and-a-half as currently required.

The bill, H.R. 1180, would tweak the Fair Labor Standards Act, which mandates employers that require hourly-paid employees to work more than 40 hours a week to pay time-and-a-half, or 1.5 times their usual hourly rate. The bill also prohibits employers from coercing or intimidating employees to choose time off instead of overtime pay.

House Republicans passed the bill, sponsored by Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), with no Democrats voting in favor.

Businesses, including many retailers, hospitals, factory operators, general contractors, franchise owners and small businesses, have lobbied for the measure for years, asserting that it would give them more flexibility and some employees would actually prefer to have time off to attend to personal matters.

Worker advocates criticized the bill and say it’s a move by businesses to avoid paying overtime pay. “This is a lousy bargain for the employees,” wrote Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, in a blog.

Eisenbrey says the bill empowers employers to dictate when employees can take time off. "There’s no guarantee that (employees) will get to take the leave when they need it," he wrote. "If the employer thinks the requested time off would be unduly disruptive to its operations it can refuse the request."

"Simply put, HR 1180 is a scam. It pretends to offer a benefit to employees, but in reality it’s a benefit to employers who get to schedule overtime work but delay paying for it for up to 13 months," he said.

Getting time off under the bill would also amount to the employee making a zero-interest loan of overtime pay to the employer, Eisenbrey said. “Employees who have no paid vacation or paid sick leave will feel pressured into giving up their right to receive overtime pay in order to have some hope of getting time off in the future.”

“Today, @HouseGOP are voting to make it legal for employers to cheat workers out of overtime. It's a disgrace,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“The Administration supports H.R. 1180,” the White House said in a statement. The bill “would help American workers balance the competing demands of family and work by giving them flexibility to earn paid time off—time they can later use for any reason, including family commitments like attending school appointments and caring for a sick child.”