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Understanding Compensatory Time Off in California: Navigating Legal and Compliance Challenges

The article “Don’t Fall into the Comp Time Trap: It’s Generally Illegal in California” highlights the challenges and risks associated with offering compensatory time off to non-exempt employees in California. Although the California Labor Code allows employers to offer comp time to non-exempt employees in certain circumstances, it’s important to understand the various requirements that apply, including limitations on the amount of time that can be accrued, an employee’s right to request cash payment in lieu of time off, and the obligation to pay accrued but unused comp time upon termination. In addition to satisfying these various requirements, an employer subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must also satisfy federal requirements.

The article cautions employers against using comp time to defer wages or unlawfully avoid paying employees for overtime work. The FLSA does not authorize compensatory time off for non-exempt employees in the private sector instead of payment of wages for overtime work. Only non-exempt public agency employees have the liberty of receiving compensatory time off at a rate not less than 1.5 hours for each hour of employment in lieu of overtime compensation.

The article notes that salaried-exempt employees may be eligible for a type of “comp time” program that is legally sustainable. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) allows employers to provide extra compensation to exempt employees who work or engage in paid travel time over a stated minimum number of scheduled hours, if exempt employees receive a guaranteed salary free and clear of any reductions to the salary on the basis of quality or quantity of time worked. However, employers should be careful because some court decisions have flagged potential problems with awarding salaried-exempt employees extra pay or compensatory time off on an hourly basis for hours worked beyond a certain number of minimum hours specified by the employer or in deducting from compensatory leave banks of such employees in such increments.

Source: Don’t Fall into the Comp Time Trap: It’s Generally Illegal in California (

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