Senate-Passed Bill Frees Schools of Some Wage Rules
Washington--The Labor Department has postponed until Nov. 1 the enforcement of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires school districts to comply with the minimum-wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The ruling could have an explosive impact on school-district governance and finances if it is not modified.
Enforcement had been scheduled to begin Oct. 15, but Secretary of Labor William Brock delayed it at the request of the Congress, which is considering legislation that would exempt state and local government workers, including school employees, from the more costly provisions of the act, said Herbert Cohen, deputy administrator of the department's wage and hour division.
The proposed legislation would give gov and hour division. The Senate measure would further delay enforcement until April 1.
The Senate measure would give government workers time off at the rate of one and a half hours for each hour of overtime.
School districts and other governmental units have traditionally been exempt from the act, but the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority that they must comply. Districts can be held liable for violations dating back to April 15 of this year.
Certified teachers and administrators are not covered by the act, but other school workers, such as custodians, bus drivers, food-service personnel, athletics coaches, and office workers, are covered.
Mr. Cohen said the Labor Department has received more than 500 complaints of unfair practices since the court's ruling, some of which, he said, have been made by school employees.
Application of the the act to school districts could have serious cost implications, due to the required rec-ord-keeping and because "districts have over the years developed a4number of practices that are not in compliance," according to James C. Hanks, a lawyer with the Sioux City, Iowa, firm of Klass, Wicher, and Mishne.
Mr. Hanks made his remarks at a meeting in Seattle this month of lawyers who work for state boards of education, held in conjunction with the annual conference of the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Many school employees volunteer their time, working more than a 40-hour week without additional compensation, while some hold two jobs and are paid a flat rate, Mr. Hanks said. Many accept compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay, while athletics coaches routinely work for stipends that do not meet minimum-wage standards, he said. Such practices are now prohibited under the Court's ruling, he said.
"You can't volunteer to do your own duties," Mr. Hanks said. And districts "not only have to tell employees not to work more than 40 hours a week, they have to enforce it," he said.
Although the act exempts salaried "professionals"--including teachers--noncertified teachers and substitutes may be affected, Mr. Hanks said. "Any school district using teachers who are not certified should be concerned," he said.
Mr. Cohen said the Labor Department has not yet determined how it will deal with many of the practices cited by Mr. Hanks. "It's going to depend on the facts of the situation," he said, adding that the treatment of uncertified teachers is "kind of a gray area." They might be exempt as professionals, he said, but they might not.
He also said that coaches working on stipends could be classified as volunteers and thus escape the minimum-wage requirement, but only if the stipends do not exceed expenses. Payments that exceed expenses would "bring into question their voluntary status," he said.
"We're looking at that issue of coaches right now to try to come up with some guidance," he said.
Mr. Hanks said that if districts are audited by the Labor Department, they must be able to prove that they are in compliance, which would require them to keep accurate records. He advised districts to conduct an internal audit, to ensure that they comply with the act and to demonstrate "good faith" in case of an audit.