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Congress' Overtime Rules Are From 1970s

Congress has let overtime provisions remain as "pending" for several years.  (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congress has gone 11 years without implementing changes to the income thresholds for paying staffers overtime, and the overtime standards in practice today on Capitol Hill are so antiquated they date back to 1975.  

In short, that means the annual salary one can make in Congress before being eligible for overtime is $155 a week, or about $8,060 a year. That's a far cry from the Labor Department's proposed threshold annual salary of $50,440, and still dramatically lower than the $23,660 income threshold the Labor Department adopted in 2004.  

That's because Congress never fully implemented changes to adopt the current standards.  

The Office of Compliance, the congressional agency that administers and enforces the Congressional Accountability Act, issued "Final Regulations Adopted by the OOC Board of Directors " in 2004, asking Congress to adopt the new overtime provisions. But those regulations are listed as pending because 11 years later, Congress has still not taken action, and for regulations to be final and effective, Congress must approve them, such as by a concurrent resolution, said Teresa James, the Office of Compliance's chief resolution officer.  

James said the Office of Compliance Board is reviewing the most recent overtime provisions and how they would pertain to Capitol Hill, and the provisions will likely be consistent with the Labor Department's current proposed rule. But for nearly half the congressional staff who make less than $50,440, change might not come until Congress takes a final vote on the measure.  

“Congress appears to have been in violation of the CAA for the past 11 years because of its failure to apply the higher salary tests for exemption set by the Department of Labor in 2004," said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute and a former Hill staffer. "Any covered employee earning a salary less than $23,660 a year should have been paid for her overtime."  

Eisenbrey cites congressional compliance with the same rules that govern the private sector as a core pledge in the Republican Contract with America in 1994, as well as subsequent changes to the law. "It would be hypocritical — and a violation of the law — for Congress not to follow the new rule if it is made final,” Eisenbrey said.  

Congress adopted Fair Labor Standards Act measures as part of the Congressional Accountability Act, one of the first pieces of legislation enacted in 1995 when the Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress. Subsequent changes to the CAA require the Office of Compliance Board to issue regulations and Congress to give final approval. The last time Congress added "significant workplace protections" to the CAA was in 2008 with passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.  

Related: Half of Capitol Hill Staff Could Qualify for New Overtime Rules

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