Law & Courts

Employers Can End Cash For Comp Time, Court Rules

By Mark Walsh — May 10, 2000 2 min read

Public employers may require workers to use their compensatory time instead of stockpiling it for eventual payment in cash, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week.

The court’s 6-3 ruling will affect many employees of state and local governments, including wage earners employed by school districts.

Teachers and other professionals are exempt from federal wage and hour rules, but districts “employ lots of people who aren’t certified,” said Julie Underwood, the general counsel of the National School Boards Association.

“There are whole categories of [school] workers who will be affected by this,” such as janitors and cafeteria workers, she added.

The ruling in Christensen v. Harris County (Case No. 98-1167) concerns the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the federal statute that established many basic workplace wage and hour rules, such as requiring private employers to pay time-and-a-half to employees who work overtime.

The FSLA’s requirements did not initially apply to public-sector employers, but Congress has amended it to bring state and local government employment under its purview. The amended law allows state and local governments to compensate for overtime by granting compensatory time—paid time off from work—at a rate of 11/2 hours for each overtime hour worked. It also limits the amount of such time workers can accrue before employers must pay them in cash. And it provides that employees are entitled to receive cash for their accrued time upon the termination of their employment.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether a government agency could force workers to use their accrued time so the agency could minimize the fiscal impact of paying workers with large accruals of such time when they leave their jobs.

The federal Department of Labor told Harris County, Texas, in a 1992 guidance letter that unless there was a labor agreement providing for it, a public employer could not force its workers to use up their compensatory time.

The county began mandatory use of accrued time anyway, and a group of deputy sheriffs sued over the policy. They won in federal district court but lost in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, based in New Orleans.

No Special Deference

The deputy sheriffs and the Clinton administration argued that the Labor Department’s interpretation of the statute deserved deference and that a government agency could not require employees to use compensatory time without consenting to such a policy in a labor agreement.

But in its May 1 ruling, the high court rejected those arguments.

“Nothing in the FSLA or its implementing regulations prohibits an employer from compelling the use of compensatory time,” Justice Clarence Thomas said for the majority. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and David H. Souter joined the opinion.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, said the Labor Department’s interpretation deserved greater weight by the courts. But Justice Thomas said that an opinion letter from a department does not merit the same legal deference as a formal regulation.

Ms. Underwood said that section of the ruling could have implications for education law. For example, the Department of Education issues numerous opinion letters interpreting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act without going through the regular rule-making process.

Now, she added, there is doubt whether such informal guidance will receive the same level of deference in the courts as formal regulations.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2000 edition of Education Week as Employers Can End Cash For Comp Time, Court Rules

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela
Teaching Live Online Discussion How to Develop Powerful Project-Based Learning
How do you prepare students to be engaged, active, and empowered young adults? Creating a classroom atmosphere that encourages students to pursue critical inquiry and the many skills it requires demands artful planning on the

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court Rules for Athletes Over NCAA in Case on Education-Related Compensation
In a case watched in high school sports, the justices hold that some limits on college athlete compensation violate federal antitrust law.
5 min read
Image of the Supreme Court.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts Let Transgender Student Play on Girls' Team, Feds Say, Supporting Her Suit Over a State Law
A West Virginia law barring transgender girls from girls' sports teams violates Title IX and U.S. Constitution, the Justice Department says.
3 min read
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., on March 11, 2021, to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues.
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., to protest a ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues, one of dozens of measures considered in state legislatures this year.
Stephen Groves/AP
Law & Courts Some Takeaways for Educators in Supreme Court Rulings on Obamacare, Religious Liberties
The justices rejected a challenge to Obamacare on standing grounds while ruling narrowly in a case involving foster care in Philadelphia.
6 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts The Opioid Crisis Hit Schools Hard. Now They Want Drug Companies to Pay Up
School districts have collectively spent at least $127 billion on services for students affected by opioid addiction, recent court filings say.
12 min read
An arrangement of Oxycodone pills in New York, pictured on Aug. 29, 2018. A new study shoots down the notion that medical marijuana laws can prevent opioid overdose deaths. Chelsea Shover of Stanford University School of Medicine and colleagues reported the findings Monday, June 10, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The painkiller Oxycodone is among the opioids implicated in a health crisis that has school districts joining with states and municipalities in seeking damages from drug manufacturers.
Mark Lennihan/AP