In the last two weeks, I posted Part 1  and Part 2 of this blog series which discussed what women want from the workplace, why many women are leaving the workforce when it does not accommodate their need for flexibility, the desire for businesses to recruit women, and developing business trends and needs requiring flexibility. This final blog will discuss how the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) works against businesses’ being able to provide women with attractive work options, thus hurting women and businesses.

FLSA Incentives1280px-Time_clock_at_wookey_hole_cave_museum

To begin this discussion, let’s talk about the incentives created by the FLSA. You might initially think the FLSA incentivizes its 1938 goals of hiring more people instead of working employees longer hours, and paying them a reasonable minimum wage for the first 40 hours worked. This, however, is far too simplistic, and no longer very true. Many more behaviors, including unintended behaviors, are incentivized by the FLSA. Before discussing those behaviors, let’s get some reactions and emotions out of the way. Like it or not, both employees and businesses are motivated in large part by money. Employees want to maximize their earnings up to the point they conflict with other priorities. How this is achieved varies significantly from hard work and job choice to “working the system.” Businesses, including non-profits, want to maximize cash flow and profits while minimizing expenses, all within the dictates of their priorities. No matter what some may think of these motivations, they are reality, and we must deal with reality. So here are realities regardless of opinions, emotions and reactions.

Employee Behaviors

  1. Some employees maximize their opportunities for greater income by finding ways (legitimate and not so legitimate) to work over 40 hours to obtain premium overtime pay, including working (or claiming to be working) during break times, not getting work done during scheduled hours, starting work early, leaving work late, and doing work at unapproved times.
  2. Some employees are very dedicated to their work and would rather mis-represent their time records rather than stop working when directed. For example, I hear about nurses all the time who would rather work through lunch because a patient needs them, no matter how many times they are directed to take a full 30 minutes for lunch. (Employers love the dedication of these employees, but their good intentions can cause havoc from a WH perspective).
  3. Some employees will misrepresent the time they work when they think no one can verify their time. For example, a common employer and coworker complaint involves employees disappearing for extended periods of time from their work locations while on the clock without a legitimate reason. (Not surprisingly, these employees cause employers to be reluctant to let these employees work by the hour from their home!)
  4. Many, many employees like the prestige of being “salaried” and not punching a time clock even if they do not receive additional pay for hours over 40. These employees also do not usually get less pay for weeks in which they work less than 40 hours. I have seen countless misclassified employees get very, VERY upset when their employers convert them to non-exempt/hourly status in compliance with the law and make them start recording their time – a very real fact politicians refuse to acknowledge when they advocate for more classes of employees to qualify for overtime.

Continue Reading How the FLSA Hurts Women (Part 3 – Conclusion)

Last week we published Part 1 of How the FLSA Hurts Women which discussed what women want from the workplace, and some reasons why they are leaving the workforce when it does not accommodate their work-life balance needs. In this part, we will be discussing business trends and business needs in general. Part 3 will discuss how the FLSA works against businesses’ being able to provide women with attractive work options, thus hurting women and businesses.

Business Trends9 to 5

I remember attending the annual conference for the Society for Human Resources Management a few years ago. The consistent message of the keynote and featured speakers really struck me: the 9:00 to 5:00 jobs are passing into history. Future employees will not be able to punch out before dinner, leave work behind, and lead a financially comfortable life. Instead, for business and employees to succeed — indeed for them to survive by meeting the 24/7 demands of the global marketplace — the whole concept of the work day needs to change. The tools we use for business and communication now, such as the internet and email are not limited to Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 Eastern Standard Time, not to mention our local, national, or overseas customers. As I listened to the speakers, I remember wondering how businesses in the United States could adapt to these changes when the FLSA, and similar state laws, demand that employees stop working after a certain number of hours no matter how much or how little they accomplished; stop reading, stop sending or receiving emails, stop thinking about new markets or product ideas or talking to co-workers or customers after clocking out. (Technically, the wage and hour laws don’t require that, but employers who let non-exempt employees work at all hours face the potential for astronomical overtime costs, as well as the nightmare of having to accurately record every minute worked).

50% Rise in Two Working Parents
      50 Percent Rise in Two Working Parents

These questions continue to arise after news reports of the disappearance of middle-class jobs, artificial intelligence replacing hourly employees, and articles like Forbes, Why Millennials are Ending the 9 To 5, by Kate Taylor, and Bloomberg’s It’s Time to Kill the 9-to-5, And the 8-to-6, Too, by Rebecca Greenfield. Greenfield’s article highlights the negatives of our U.S. culture which is “rooted” in an “hours mentality,” which no longer conforms to most people’s lives or their workflows. Employees who have flexibility and control over their schedule rather than 8 hours in a cubicle, have improved productivity, health, and retention rates. Greenfield also noted the 50 percent rise in two working parent households since 1970, yet there has been no structural change to the workplace to adapt to the new reality.

Continue Reading How the FLSA Hurts Women (Part 2)

What?!  Blasphemy!

What do you mean do away with the FLSA?!
     What do you mean do away with the FLSA?!

Our politicians regularly debate how high the minimum wage should be, and which workers should earn overtime pay, but in my 30+ working years, I cannot recall any significant push to rid ourselves of the nearly untouchable dinosaur known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Women in particular, however, should take a fresh look at the FLSA and how it is hurting them from achieving what they want from their workplaces and pursuing work of choice, and consider whether it is time for a complete overhaul of this archaic law. Real foundational change could also have multiple other benefits including employer growth and success, benefits for minorities and children, and the lives of male workers.

This blog will be the first in a three part series taking a fresh look at the FLSA, with a particular focus on its negative impact on working women, and how real change could be a real boon for women. This “Part 1” will examine the history of working women, address why women are leaving the workplace, and what women want from their employers to attract them to stay.

Part 2 will discuss relevant business needs and trends in general in today’s world marketplace.

Finally, Part 3 will bring everything together and explore how the FLSA works against women in achieving their professional goals as well as better work-life balance. It will also consider alternatives to the current structure of the FLSA and the positive impact real change could have on U.S. businesses and women alike.

History of Change for Working Women

Women's work?
Women’s work?

Next year, 2018, will mark the 80th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Following the great depression, it was passed in 1938 with the good intention of encouraging business to hire more workers (by paying a penalty for working employees over 40 hours), establishing a minimum wage for workers with low bargaining power, and protecting children from horrendous child labor and working conditions. In 1938, these goals were important for helping one parent obtain gainful employment and allowing children to get an education and be kids.

In 1960, only 25% of married households with children under 18 had both parents working. By 2012, that number more than doubled to 60%, and the number of     households with only a married mother working tripled. In 2015, 64% of women with children under age 6 were working (compared to 74% of working-age women with children between 6 to 17 years old), and 29% of working women with children under 6 were single parents.[1] While women are breaking glass ceilings, are more valued by companies who recognize that diversity contributes to higher financial outcomes, and more women than men have college degrees, women are still choosing to leave the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics show that between 2000 and 2015, the percentage of women in the workforce decreased from 59.9 to 56.7, with the highest decreases in the prime age range of 25-54. So why is this happening?

What Women Want

While every woman who has decided not to work has their own individual reason, according to the 2016 Gallup study, “Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived,” companies’ biggest competitors for talented women are their children. Whether a working mother decides to accept a particular job is often less about a paycheck, and more about having the ability to do what they do best, having a job they can depend on, and having greater flexibility, including flexible hours, schedules, and time out of the office. According to Gallup, female millennials are surprisingly aligned with female Gen X and baby boomers in these considerations. For working mothers, jobs with rigid schedules are rarely attractive or practical.

happy womanWhile pay is not the highest priority for the majority of working women, to better analyze what women want, it is important to discuss the “gender pay gap.” Personally, I have a major pet peeve when people discuss the gender pay gap with the sound-bite, “women earn $.83 for every $1.00 a man earns,” because this is way too simplistic, and often intentionally ignores numerous factors of personal choice that explain at least part of the disparity. That being said, there is plenty of evidence that the gap is not fully explained by personal choice. In addition, the greater disparity for African-American and Latina women compared to men ($.64 and $.56 respectively) leaves more room for question well beyond personal choices. Nevertheless, one underlying factor cited by Gallup as accounting for these disparities has a very real significance for working women, especially given the flexibility they value in the workplace: hours worked and perception of hours worked. To better balance their workplace and family needs, women often decide to cut down, or change their work hours, pursue less time-intensive jobs, or leave the workplace altogether. In 2015, 25% of employed women worked part-time compared to 12% of employed men. These decisions affect the perceptions of how hard women are working and their dedication to their employer, reduce women’s up-to-date work experience, and thus reduce women’s pay and chances of getting promoted.

heather graph 3Statistically, salaried men report working more hours than women. But does this mean men are working harder or getting more done? Anecdotally, I have seen professional women allegedly “cut down” their hours – that is they cut time working in the office – which really translated into working just about as much time or getting as much done, but at odd times working harder and faster, and whenever they had a few minutes here and there. They often got more done in less time than people clocking more hours at the office. Indeed, studies like this and this are providing scientific evidence that women’s brains are better at multi-tasking then men’s brains – working moms probably don’t need science to prove that! So, continuing to value face-time in the office instead of productivity, which can favor men over women, doesn’t make much sense.  And this will lead to next week’s installment of our blog – what businesses really want.

1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Characteristics of Families Summary, April 22, 2016.

Image Credits: From Google,  Creative Commons license. The Happy Land Illustration by D.H. Friston for the Illustrated London News of 22 March 1873; From Flickr, Women Sewing, Successful Woman on Laptop; Table from the Gallup Report, “Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived,”