Share this article

print logo

While protecting the rights of some workers, overtime rule limits options for others

On its face, President Obama’s plan to raise the maximum salary on which employers must pay overtime to salaried workers is indisputably fair: As inflation influences buying power, standards that affect income need to be adjusted. It’s why minimum wages have to be increased periodically, and the threshold for overtime is no exception. It is, in that regard, the right decision.

But other issues require deeper thought. One is the effect on entrepreneurial workers who are committed to their own development and success. Driven people want to work at their careers, and it is possible that such a rule, while important to guard against employers who take unfair advantage of workers, can have unintended consequences. It can act as a deterrent to personal growth.

No doubt, some of those driven people will wink at the law, while some employers will, happily or not, be willing to pay good employees for efforts that support their business. But for others, the law may be a double-edged sword.

Among them, albeit for different reasons, is Teresa Klemann. The Amherst resident, who works for an aftermarket auto parts distributor, wonders if the increased pay will provoke work rule changes that reduce her personal days or crimp the scheduling flexibility that allows her to attend events at her children’s schools or take them to doctor’s appointments without penalty. It’s a serious issue.

But the deeper question is how well this law applies to the 21st century economy. The overtime rule was designed for the country’s 20th century industrial/manufacturing economy, not for one that oscillates between high-tech and service industries.

That doesn’t mean that legal protection has been rendered superfluous, only that this law bears re-examination to ensure that it suits, as best as possible, the needs of American workers in 2015, not those from 1955. It would be a worthy task for Congress to take on.

Laws are blunt objects. They tend to be bludgeons, not scalpels. Unintended consequences are inevitable and they crawl through Obama’s plan to increase the overtime threshold. The change is worth those risks, but the risks should be re-evaluated and, where practicable, minimized.