The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 requires most workers to be paid overtime, but it allows the Labor Department to establish exemptions. That’s one area where the Obama administration could make changes.
Under the current rules, employers can deny overtime pay to executive, administrative and professional workers. Most workers who earn more than $455 per week are eligible for that category, under a regulation set during the George W. Bush administration.
The specifics of the directive are not known, but it could potentially affect federal workers, who are subject to many of the same overtime policies as private-sector employees. Questions remain about whether the order could affect federal senior executives, who are not eligible for overtime pay.
Worker advocates have expressed support for the White House plan. Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said the order is “very welcome and badly needed move to promote fair pay by requiring employers to pay more low-wage workers the wages they rightfully deserve for overtime work.”
Paco Fabián, a representative of Good Jobs Nation, commended Obama for the expected overtime directive, as well as a recent executive order that raised the minimum wage for contractor employees working at federal facilities. But he said more needs to be done.
“It’s great that the president is taking these steps, but the truth is that it’s not enough” Fabián said, adding that wage theft is still possible if the administration does not strictly enforce its policies. “I think we need a better set of policies and clear, direct enforcement to solve some of these problems.”
Tibebe Ayele, an Ethiopian immigrant and D.C. resident who helped manage a Chinese restaurant until 2013, said the overtime order could have helped him in his previous job, for which he worked 60 hours per week but was not paid overtime. He said he earned about $700 every two weeks, which amounts to less than the federal minimum wage considering his hours.
“It’s great progress,” Ayele said of the planned directive. “It would be a great advantage to have this possibility, but the important thing is how it would be enforced.”
The directive is likely to face criticism from business groups as well as Republicans, who have accused Obama in the past of abusing his executive authority.