Payment Of "Comp" Time For Overtime Work By Public Employees

Unlike in the private sector, where the only legal method for paying overtime is monetary compensation at a 1.5 times the employee's regular hourly rate, public employers may pay overtime to their employees through "compensatory time."  Compensatory time is paid time, not unpaid time, off that the employee earns instead of overtime.  It's like accruing extra vacation time instead of extra money when a public employee works overtime.  Federal overtime laws place stringent restrictions on public employers that want to use compensatory time to pay for overtime. 

First, public employees must receive compensatory time at a rate of 1.5 hours for every hour over forty that are worked in a given workweek.  Compensatory time is not earned on a straight hour-to-hour ratio.  It's legal for public employers to instruct an employee to stop working for the week and avoid overtime if the employer has reached forty hours.

Second, there are limits on how much compensatory time an employee can earn in a year.  If the work of an employee for which compensatory time may be provided included work in a public safety activity, an emergency response activity, or a seasonal activity, the employee engaged in such work may accrue not more than 480 hours of compensatory time for hours worked.  If such work was any other work, the employee engaged in such work may accrue not more than 240 hours of compensatory time for hours worked.  Once an employee reaches that limit, any additional overtime must be paid through the standard "premium rate" compensation of monetary pay at the time-and-a-half rate.

Finally, once an employee requests the use of compensatory time off, the employee has to be allowed to use it within a reasonable period after making the request if the use of the compensatory time does not unduly disrupt the employer's operations.  Whether a request to use compensatory time has been granted within a reasonable period will be determined by considering the customary work practices within the employer based on the facts and circumstances in each case.  Such practices include, but are not limited to (a) the normal schedule of work, (b) anticipated peak workloads based on past experience, (c) emergency requirements for staff and services, and (d) the availability of qualified substitute staff.  Mere inconvenience to the employer is an insufficient basis for denial of a request for compensatory time off.  For an agency to turn down a request from an employee for compensatory time off requires that it should reasonably and in good faith anticipate that it would impose an unreasonable burden on the agency's ability to provide services of acceptable quality and quantity for the public during the time requested without the use of the employee's services. 

Harley Erbe