Laws leave lots to be desired

    Powerless. Absolutely powerless. Thatís how I feel right at this moment.
   And a little angry. Well, furious might be a better word. Letís just say if someone offered me 12 cents for my business at the moment, Iíd probably sell.
   Let me explain. A few weeks ago I wrote a column about labor laws, and one of the questions was about my payment of overtime. I asked what you would do if an employee came to you and pleaded to work a sixth day, claming he was desperate for extra income and didnít want to be forced to find an inconvenient second job with a lower starting wage.
    The answer was to tell the poor employee to hit the streets, because federal labor laws require an employer to pay overtime to anyone working over 40 hours, regardless of who made the request. And thereís no way any employer would regularly schedule an employee for overtime.
    I suggested the law was unfair to the employee, and it is. In the mood to work late to finish a project? Nope, canít do it. Go home. Frantic to get an extra dayís income to pay the rent on time? Forget it. Both require the payment of overtime. So the employee, desperate, applies for minimum wage weekend work at McDonaldís.
   So why am I angry? Because two weeks after the column is published, guess who shows up at my door? Yep, an inspector from the Department of Labor.
   Maybe it was a coincidence. It doesnít really matter. But he knew what he was looking for, and he found it.
   Actually, I gave it to him. I readily admitted I only recently became aware of their ridiculous law and reluctantly changed our policy, greatly disappointing a few employees who needed the extra income.
   The inspector, whom Iíll call Dick, was surprisingly pleasant. He said he agreed it was a stupid law, but nevertheless, it was the law.
   "Iím just the messenger," said Dick. "Thereís no need to take it out on the messenger."
    Right. I told him that he would be hard-pressed to find any small business that offers the employee benefits that we do. Two weeksí vacation (three weeks after only two years), sick pay, birthdays off with pay, double time on some holidays, full company-paid health plan, profit-sharing/retirement plan, and more Ė none of which the law requires.
   Dick readily agreed again. The employees were fortunate to work for such a generous company. "But Iím just doing what the law tells me to do. And youíre in violation of the law."
    "Donít you have better things to do with your time?" I asked, knowing the answer. "Thereís plenty of sweatshops out there that require employees to work extra hours and never pay overtime. We paid over $50,000 in overtime last year, for every hour we asked someone to work. The only thing weíre guilty of is doing a favor for a few employees by granting their request for more hours."
    And Dickís answer: "I understand, but the law is the law."
   He wanted us to go back two years and total all hours that were paid at straight time that, by law, should have been overtime. The amount will be substantial, adding up to thousands and thousands of dollars.
    "You donít have to pay it," Dick said in a most congenial tone. "But if you donít, it will be referred to our legal division, and youíll probably just end up paying a lot of attorneyís fees on top of it."
    Thanks, Dick.
    In my admittedly biased opinion, everything that is wrong with business in America is summed up in this little episode. Rigid, frigid bureaucrats, hiding behind the faÁade of "just doing their job," making life miserable for anyone who crosses their path.
   Dick admits itís a ridiculous law. He knows Iím getting the shaft. It doesnít matter. When I threaten to pay for the thousands in back pay by simply cutting some of the employee benefits, he only shrugs.
    "Thatís your prerogative," he said, not caring one bit that his attack might end up being paid for by the employees heís supposedly protecting.
    Heís just doing his job. No flexibility. I violated a ridiculous law, so I pay up so Dick can show his supervisor he collected.
    I understand he has no choice. We are a government of laws, not men. Thatís the way the system works. And sometimes, thatís the way the system fails.

 

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