In the wake of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division proposal to amend the “white collar” exemptions, some members of the United States Congress are struggling with how they will comply with the new law.
United States Senators and Representatives employ teams of staff who are required to work long, irregular hours in order to serve constituents and help their bosses fulfill their congressional obligations. Like private employers, these politicians now face a difficult choice—either raise the salaries for many of their staffers or convert a group of workers from exempt to non-exempt employees and face the specter of overtime payments.
This leaves Democratic members of Congress facing a Catch-22. Democratic politicians have voiced support for the DOL’s proposal, but many of their own staff members do not earn enough to qualify as exempt employees under the projected minimum salary requirement, which would more than double to $50,440 under the DOL’s proposal. As a result, some politicians’ chiefs of staff, who are tasked with handling administrative matters, face the real challenge of restructuring lawmakers’ staff.
Some Democratic leaders have recognized that it would be poor form to support the DOL’s mammoth exemption changes while having their staffers work long hours without overtime pay. Yet, they are constrained in their ability to raise salaries because of deep cuts to the office budgets for members of Congress. As Ben Penn recently reported in Bloomberg BNA, the members’ representational allowances were reduced by approximately 20 percent between fiscal years 2011 and 2013. The concerns are especially high for House members in non-leadership positions as Senators and Representatives in leadership roles receive more funding for payroll expenses.
Mr. Penn found that some political leaders are publically expressing their concern over how to comply with the new regulations while others, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are already adjusting the overtime protocol for their own staff in anticipation of the regulatory change.
Although some members of Congress will not voluntarily rearrange their offices to come in line with the DOL’s proposal, they may be required to meet similar standards promulgated by the agency that oversees workplace rules in the legislative branch. The Office of Compliance enforces the Congressional Accountability Act, which applies several different civil rights, labor, and workplace safety & health laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, to Congress, requiring its members to follow many of the same employment laws applied to private and public sector employers. After the DOL releases the final version of the new regulations, the Office of Compliance could issue a separate regulation that applies the same minimum salary requirement to employees of members of Congress.
In other words, whether due to political pressures or actual rule making, members of Congress are learning that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Of course, the fact that politicians are struggling with the mechanics of complying with the new law may come as cold comfort to many private employers facing increased payroll costs. Putting any schadenfreude aside, the concern expressed by some politicians reinforces the fact that employers will have to find creative solutions to maintain productivity without breaking the bank.