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Technology industry wants to limit employee overtime rights

For Greenbelt residents, overtime wages are governed by both federal and Maryland state employment law. "Overtime" refers to payment to an employee, at the rate of one and one-half times the regular hourly wage, for work performed in excess of 40 hours in a seven-day week.

There are some exceptions, but most workers in the Maryland area must be paid time-and-a-half for each hour worked beyond 40. Certain highly skilled professionals, such as doctors, do not usually qualify for this protection. And now the technology industry is campaigning to update U.S. labor laws in order to limit overtime pay for certain computer professionals.

More than 3 million people work in computer-related jobs in the U.S., according to a news report.

Currently, under U.S. labor law, computer employees who perform work such as systems analysis and programming and earn at least $455 per week or $27.63 per hour are not entitled to overtime pay. These high-tech professionals were added to the list of excluded workers in 1990.

A common justification for excluding certain jobs from overtime protection is that very highly skilled employees are able to individually negotiate their wages, hours and conditions. Employees in the excluded professions also tend to work on flexible schedules, in positions that require evening and weekend work, meaning that their actual hours are difficult to monitor and verify.

A bill introduced last fall would expand the block of computer workers who are not entitled to overtime to include those who perform duties like securing, configuring, integrating and debugging computer systems. Companies that back the legislation say that the reforms are necessary to keep jobs in the U.S.-since technology workers overseas are paid much less than U.S. workers.

However, opponents say that they are not happy to work long hours without compensation.

In recent years, there have been several class action lawsuits in regard to wrongly denied overtime. In 2006, IBM agreed to pay $65 million to settle such claims; Bank of America agreed to a $4.1 million settlement in 2003 with employees who alleged they were misclassified so their employer could skip paying overtime.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Source: McClatchy Newspapers, "Overtime bill pits needs of high-tech employers vs. workers," Franco Ordonez, Feb. 7, 2012

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