Christensen V. Harris County
Labour laws are very important in promoting the welfare employees. In the United States of America, these laws have given employees a right to unionize as well as engage with their employers. This ensures that people work comfortably with no fear of exploitation or abuse of any kind. There have however been contentious in work places on matters of remuneration as well as overtimes.
Fair Labour Standards Act (FLSA)
The Fair Labour Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 is a good example of laws that protect worker welfare on matters of overtime. It discourages exploitative working week hours that go beyond 40 hours. It also provides for compensatory time where employees are entitled to time off with full pay. This law has over the years been criticized by employers all over the country.
The FLSA provided that overtime to be paid in form of compensated time. Some employees however do not use this time and have to be compensated in some way. It provided that this overtime can be compensated in at a rate of at least of 1.5 times of the hourly wage.
This was quite unpopular among the employers as in increases the wage bill. As a solution to this, the act was amended so that the compensatory time can be paid off with time off at a rate 1.5 times of every hour worked. The issue to address at this point is that employees still choose payment over time off. Forcing them to take the time off was highly protested in Harris County.
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The issue of whether the state or local government should force their employees to take time off is very contentious. The employees took over time an aim of making extra money so that they can improve their standards of living. Carr (1986) points out that overtime are necessary to any organization due to the fact that the employer is able to beat deadlines as well as help keep up with the demand of during the peak season.
This means that overtime is just as beneficial to them employer as it is to the employee. The matter presented before the Supreme Court was whether the employee would be forced to take the out the outstanding overtime in form of time off as opposed to fiscal compensation. Another important fact is that this employee would prefer the fiscal compensation to time off.
On the other hand, the local government has inadequate funds to pay the overtime despite their willingness to motivate their workers. The quest to source these funds would mean that the government either borrows money or increases taxes to compensate the workers. This is a classic zero sum game. The Supreme Court would not make the workers better off without making the local government worse off.
The legal question however, is that was whether the local government had the right to force employees take the time off instead of getting paid. According to Marshall a United States Chief Justice, a government has the power tax it citizens in order to accomplish its purpose. In this case, the state has the right to force the employees to take time off in place of fiscal compensation.
As state would force the workers to take compulsory time off because it cannot afford to compensate their accrued compensatory time. Any effort to make the fiscal payment is detrimental to the economy. Its responsibility is to look out for the whole society not just the workers. The public employer thus has the right to force workers to take time off if it means the welfare of the whole society is better of that way.
The labour laws give workers a chance to fight for their welfare and any policy making them worse off can be protested. In this case, the public employee wants money instead of time off. The reason they worked overtime in the first place was to make more money not so that they could rest in future. Giving them time off denies them an income they had planned for. This gives them the right to protest against the FLSA amendment. The Harris County government should also come up with ways to enhance worker welfare.
Economically and Legally Justification of Labour Unions
The Supreme Court’s decision was both economically and legally justified. Green (1999), points out that the government has a political obligation to put the society’s interest above that of an individual. The reason behind this is that when the government works for the benefit of the society, everyone of better off unlike when it seeks to appease a few members of the society.
The increasing number of compensatory hours would have made the wage bill to burdensome to the economy which would have eventually collapsed the economy. Thus everybody would have suffered including the public employees. Without the overtime these employees still have a basic salary thus the quest of overtime is just greed.
Labour unions give their members a collective bargaining power (Ewing, 2005). They have over the years been a very efficient watchdog for worker’s welfare. They also have an obligation to the society at large. A labour union would have given the employees a fighting chance for the overtime payment. However with the understanding that their demands have negative effect to the economy of Harris County, they would have negotiated for a reasonable payment plan that could benefit both them and the local government.
The Harris county government should be aware that motivating its workers is very necessary. This will mean that there is better service provision. As it fights cases in court, their workers morale should be put into account. It is also worth noting that employees working overtime may not be the only solution for the labour deficit. There are other solutions like improving the working conditions. This could be very effective because it not only improves workers efficiency but also their morale. The Harris county government has an obligation of listening to her employees and taking their complaints seriously.
The case of Christensen v Harris County has a very prominent effect in the interpretation of labour laws. These laws are not only supposed to look out for the welfare to the members but also the society at large. Due to the rapid economic growth over the recent past, there has been increased demand made by employees. Some of them have a long term negative effect on the society at large. The courts especially the labour courts should ensure that labour unions do not abuse their power. Checks and balances should apply here too.
- Carr, D. (1986). Overtime: Why Use Overtime.
- Green, T. (1999). Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation.
- Ewing, K. (2005). The Function of Trade Unions, Industrial Law Journal, Volume 34, Issue 1, Retrieved from