While a new federal rule over which employees should be getting overtime pay languishes in the courts, two Rhode Island lawmakers have introduced a bill that would change the way certain executive, administrative, and professional employees are paid overtime.

Sen. Jeanine Calkin (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) and Rep. Susan Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol) have submitted legislation (2017-S 0505/2017-H 5596) in their respective chambers that would change the current overtime exemption law.

“The intent of this bill is to help prevent abuse of the overtime law,” said Senator Calkin. “Current law states, that for those salaried employees whose pay is below a weekly threshold, they must receive overtime pay. However, the existing threshold has not been updated to keep pace with inflation. This rule was originally put in place for those executives, administrators and other professionals who managed their own time. However, many of these salaried workers today do not have any control over how many hours they must work. They work excessive overtime hours that go unpaid, and in effect, they earn a much lower effective hourly rate than they would receive if they were an hourly employee. With an increase to the threshold, more lower-income salaried employees will receive overtime pay for the hard work they do.”

As it stands now, executive, administrative, and professional employees are exempted from overtime pay if they are salaried at more than $200 per week. The new law would raise that number to $1,036. To ensure that number keeps up with inflation, beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, and every year thereafter, the threshold will increase based on an updated salary basis of not less than the 40th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time non-hourly workers in the Northeast Census Region in the second quarter of the year preceding the update as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Professional employees have been abused long enough,” said Representative Donovan. “No professional is making less than $200 a week, so this is a de facto exemption on overtime for all professional employees. It has led to the wholesale abuse of executives and administrators who sometimes work 60 hours a week without compensation, simply because their employers can get away with it. We have to make things fair for them.”

Overtime is one of several areas, such as health reform and climate change, where state legislators around the country are looking for state-level ways of replacing Obama-era reforms that could soon be unraveled.

Senator Calkin’s bill, which is cosponsored by Senators Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence), William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) and Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), has been referred to the Senate Labor Committee.

Representative Donovan’s bill, which is cosponsored by Representatives Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Julie Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34 South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown), has been referred to the House Labor Committee.

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