Compensatory (comp) time is a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that only applies to public employees.
At TASB HR Services, we get several common questions about comp time and we’ve listed and answered them in this article.
Q: Can a school district require an eligible employee to take comp time in lieu of overtime pay?
A: Yes, as long as an understanding or agreement concerning the earning of comp time in lieu of overtime pay existed before the overtime work. Without such an agreement, the employee can decide whether to be paid overtime or receive comp time instead. This understanding may be in the form of a notification of intent (verbal or in writing) by the employer before the work is performed. It doesn’t need to be done each time an employee is required to work overtime, but can be done through local policy, the employee handbook, or as a part of new employee orientation.
Q: Is there a maximum amount of comp time an eligible employee can accumulate?
A: The law allows employees to accumulate up to 240 hours of comp time although it is recommended districts limit the amount of hours that can be accumulated. Once an employee reaches the limit, the employee must be paid for any additional overtime.
Q: Should we let our eligible employees accumulate comp time from year to year or pay out any unused amounts annually?
A: Limiting the amount of comp time that can be carried over from one year to the next or requiring that it must all be used within a particular school year benefits the district on multiple levels. Allowing employees to accumulate comp time from year to year not only means the possibility of large, unplanned payouts at separation, it also could come at a higher cost. Since comp time has to be paid out at the current rate of pay for any given employee, an employee who made $10.00 an hour 20 years ago who is now making $21 an hour could potentially cost the district a far larger sum at separation than it would have, had the comp time been paid off during the year it was accrued.
Q: Does the district have the authority to require employees to use all accrued comp time prior to accessing paid leave?
A: Yes. Although a district can’t restrict the order in which state personal leave and any personal leave provided by the district can be used by an employee, it can require an employee to use accrued comp time first, since comp time is not a form of leave.
Q: I have received a comp time request for two days next week, but the governor is coming to visit our campus to present an award the week after, and there are some repairs I need this employee to attend to. Do I have to honor the request?
A: Although employers must allow employees to use comp time within a reasonable period, an employer is not obligated to approve comp time on the date(s) requested if doing so would “unduly disrupt” the operations of the agency. In the case of this special circumstance, a district could deny the request.
Q: My colleague in another district says they routinely require employees to use comp time concurrently with Family and Medical Leave (FML). Is this defensible?
A: FMLA regulations allow unpaid family and medical leave to run concurrently with comp time. The choice to use comp time concurrently with FML can be either at the employee’s request or as required by the district.
Keith McLemore joined HR Services in 2015 and assists districts with compensation planning and development. He has 17 years of experience traveling the state supporting public education employees.
McLemore received a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern University and a master’s degree from Texas Tech University, both with a focus on research analysis and design. He is a SHRM-CP.
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