Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576, 9 (2000)

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584

CHRISTENSEN v. HARRIS COUNTY

Opinion of the Court

ployee will receive timely compensation for working overtime. Section 207(o)(5) guarantees that, at the very minimum, an employee will get to use his compensatory time (i. e., take time off work with full pay) unless doing so would disrupt the employer's operations. And it is precisely this concern over ensuring that employees can timely "liquidate" compensatory time that the Secretary of Labor identified in her own regulations governing 207(o)(5):

"Compensatory time cannot be used as a means to avoid statutory overtime compensation. An employee has the right to use compensatory time earned and must not be coerced to accept more compensatory time than an employer can realistically and in good faith expect to be able to grant within a reasonable period of his or her making a request for use of such time." 29 CFR 553.25(b) (1999).

This reading is confirmed by nearby provisions of the FLSA that reflect a similar concern for ensuring that the employee receive some timely benefit for overtime work. For example, 207(o)(3)(A) provides that workers may not accrue more than 240 or 480 hours of compensatory time, depending upon the nature of the job. See also 207(o)(2)(B) (conditioning the employer's ability to provide compensatory time upon the employee not accruing compensatory time in excess of the 207(o)(3)(A) limits). Section 207(o)(3)(A) helps guarantee that employees only accrue amounts of compensatory time that they can reasonably use. After all, an employer does not need 207(o)(3)(A)'s protection; it is free at any time to reduce the number of hours accrued by exchanging them for cash payment, 207(o)(3)(B), or by halting the accrual of compensatory time by paying cash compensation for overtime work, 29 CFR 553.26(a) (1999). Thus, 207(o)(3)(A), like 207(o)(5), reflects a concern that employees receive some timely benefit in exchange for overtime work. Moreover, on petitioners' view, the compensa-

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