Comp time – everything your HR department doesn’t tell you

  • Kat Ciesielska
  • April 1, 2021
  • 6 min read

Are you here because you’ve been working extra hours lately? If you’ve heard from your HR (human resources) team or from your manager that you could “take it back” soon… you can’t agree to that. Even you want to.

According to FLSA (American Fair Labor Standards Act) in most of cases comp time (compensatory time) is actually illegal. It might seem very surprising, but that is a fact, which you should be aware of. No matter if you’re an employee or an employer. 

Unpack your big luggage then, tell your dog that you’re staying home, and cancel tickets for your trip. But don’t you worry! Maybe you won’t have a long weekend, but you can buy yourself this fancy pair of shoes and some dogs’ special treats. Because now, my friend, your boss needs to give you your overtime pay. 

But let’s start from the beginning:


comp time

What is FLSA and why should you care about it

There is actually no real talk about the comp time in States if you don’t know anything about FLSA. The Fair Labor Standards Act was created to protect employees. It establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, and record-keeping. Furthermore, it also says about youth employment standards. It affects employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. All employers need to know it and obey it.

Some details may be a little different in every state, however, the most important factors are the same. FLSA covers most of the employees, but there are also some exemptions. That is why while searching for information about comp time, you may read a lot about non-exempt employees and about exempt employees

According to FLSA, the exempt employees are:

  • executive, administrative, and professional employees (including teachers and academic administrative personnel in elementary and secondary schools), outside sales employees, and certain skilled computer professionals (as defined in the Department of Labor’s regulations),
  • employees of certain seasonal amusement or recreational establishments,
  • employees of certain small newspapers and switchboard operators of small telephone companies,
  • seamen employed on foreign vessels,
  • employees engaged in fishing operations,
  • employees engaged in newspaper delivery,
  • farmworkers employed on small farms (i.e., those that used less than 500 “man-days” of farm labor in any calendar quarter of the preceding calendar year),
  • casual babysitters,
  • persons employed solely by the individual receiving services (not an agency, non-profit, or other third-party employers) primarily providing fellowship and protection (companionship services) to seniors and/or individuals with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities,

If you don’t find yourself on the list, you’re most likely to be the non-exempt employee, which means that you’re covered by the law (and you’re supposed to get overtime pay, not compensatory time). 

It is important to remember at this point, that the Fair Labor Standards Act is meant to protect you, not to make you harm. That is why you should be actually delighted to not be an exemption employee.

Keep reading and you will find out why. 

TOP 3 words all employees need to understand

You already know what is FLSA. That is the moment when we can move to the 3 most important definitions it gives us. Understanding them well is crucial to being able to protect your best interests. 

Google researches like what is comp time off, what is comp time at work happen more often than you could think. That means that many people still don’t understand the meaning of the first, crucial word. Let’s jump into it. 

Comp time (compensatory time): comp time is the “benefit” some employers offer to their employees instead of overtime pay. 

Let’s imagine this. If your project manager didn’t forecast well (what wouldn’t happen if your organization had implemented workforce management), there is a need to work some extra hours. 

If you’re protected by the law, the maximum number of hours you can work during the week is 40. If your boss asks you to stay overtime, he needs to compensate you.

Overtime pay: for the non-exempt employees this is the only official way of compensation. According to the FLSA your employer needs to pay you at least a time-and-a-half-rate. This sounds pretty well, doesn’t it? 

Recordkeeping: the maintenance of a history of one’s activities and financial dealings. It means that you and your employer need to keep all the information about the hours you’ve worked and about the payments. For the first one, the good idea is to use some time tracker (for example TimeCamp). For the second one, the best will be a bank statement. 

Tired man 

Comp time isn’t OK for you (unless…)

If you work like most people, you basically sell your time to your boss. That is why overtime pay is the fairest solution for every employee. If you’d sell sandwiches to people, you wouldn’t like to receive a sandwich as payment, would you? Comp time instead of money for your extra time is simply not fair.

That is why FLSA puts so much attention to overtime pay. In the past employers would force you to work overtime and to agree to compensatory time instead of money. It would be better for them. Engage you in work when they really needed you, and give you some time off when they could survive without you.

Trying to make you think that’s fair, is a lie. You work for money, and your payment should be money. If you want to have some days off, you should decide when will it be, and you should have enough cash to make some use of it. 

What is also important, FLSA guarantees you more than the usual rate for extra time. Overtime wages are simply higher. If your boss offers you “getting back your time” instead of overtime pay, it actually means, that he offers you less than you deserve. 

If you get $20 per hour, according to the law, for every extra hour you should receive at least $30. If your boss wanted to be truly fair, he should give you 1,5 free hours for each 1 extra hour you’ve worked. When he doesn’t propose it, he’s basically trying to steal from you. 

Don’t let anyone pay you in a sandwich (or a half of one)… for a sandwich. Unless that’s your goal. 

Overtime pay sounds worse than time off? Here’s the solution

Even if you see now that forbidding comp time is actually to protect your rights, sometimes you might actually prefer having some time off instead of overtime pay. Sometimes, you just want to switch your sandwich for another one. Don’t worry. There is a way to get it, without actually calling it a compensatory time. 

All the regulations in FLSA say about a week of work. What does it mean to you? That if you plan your week with the boss, you can get the Friday free. 

Let’s imagine that the deadline is settled for Thursday. If you want to make yourself a long weekend, just arrange your week differently. If you work from Monday to Thursday for 10 hours each day, instead of 8, you will hit the 40 hours, and you can take off Friday without any problems. 

This won’t be considered a compensatory time according to law. What you need to remember though, is that you can’t move the day off to another week. If you want to have Monday off, then you will need to squeeze 40 hours from Tuesday to Friday. 

Easy, right? 

Comp time in Europe

The meaning of comp time shouldn’t be a mystery for you anymore. Unless you work in Europe. Doesn’t matter if you’re American working for a European company, or you were born on the Old Continent. 

Comp time vs overtime battle has its place everywhere. Europe is a specific area. In some ways the European Union tries to standardize many topics: including these attached to work. 

In 2019 ECJ (European Court of Justice) made a state that every EU company needs to record their employees’ work time. It needs to be a reliable, objective, and accessible system.

There is also limited time for work. On average, you can work a maximum of 48h hours per week, including overtime. The reference period is up to 4 months. What’s also important, the employer needs to guarantee at least 11 consecutive hours of the rest to all the non-exempt employees.

When it comes to overtime pay or comp time, every country has different approaches to this topic. However, in most of them, the law is very analogous to the one in the USA. 

Europeans also believe that they work for money, not trade their time. 

That is us I recommend you to get the information about this topic from official government sources right for the country you work in. Whenever it is and whatever the law says, the crucial part of taking care of yourself as an employee is tracking your work time

How to use your overtime work in a smart way

You already know if you can receive compensatory time or no, and that comp time for salaried employees is usually illegal. You also know how to win the game when it comes to free Friday. No matter what kind of compensation you should receive, you need to know, when to ask for it. 

Read also: Salary vs Hourly: What’s the Difference and Benefits for Employee

That is why time tracking is the most important thing to do for you. There is no chance to get overtime pay if your employer doesn’t know that you really deserve it. Even if the HR team tracks when you enter the building or when you start the work (for example on Slack), they can always use the argument “I don’t know if you haven’t used this time for your personal needs”.

But if you use a time tracker like TimeCamp… you can show them. 

Didn’t you know about it?

You’re welcome. Now, go, check how easy tracking time can be, and never work extra hours without a comp again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *