Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576, 10 (2000)

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Cite as: 529 U. S. 576 (2000)

Opinion of the Court

tory time exception enacted by Congress in the wake of Garcia would become a nullity when employees who refuse to use compensatory time reach the statutory maximums on accrual. Petitioners' position would convert 207(o)(3)(A)'s shield into a sword, forcing employers to pay cash compensation instead of providing compensatory time to employees who work overtime.

At bottom, we think the better reading of 207(o)(5) is that it imposes a restriction upon an employer's efforts to prohibit the use of compensatory time when employees request to do so; that provision says nothing about restricting an employer's efforts to require employees to use compensatory time. Because the statute is silent on this issue and because Harris County's policy is entirely compatible with 207(o)(5), petitioners cannot, as they are required to do by 29 U. S. C. 216(b), prove that Harris County has violated 207.

Our interpretation of 207(o)(5)—one that does not prohibit employers from forcing employees to use compensatory time—finds support in two other features of the FLSA. First, employers remain free under the FLSA to decrease the number of hours that employees work. An employer may tell the employee to take off an afternoon, a day, or even an entire week. Cf. Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., 450 U. S. 728, 739 (1981) ("[T]he FLSA was designed . . . to ensure that each employee covered by the Act . . . would be protected from the evil of overwork . . ." (internal quotation marks and emphasis omitted)). Second, the FLSA explicitly permits an employer to cash out accumulated compensatory time by paying the employee his regular hourly wage for each hour accrued. 207(o)(3)(B); 29 CFR 553.27(a) (1999). Thus, under the FLSA an employer is free to require an employee to take time off work, and an employer is also free to use the money it would have paid in wages to cash out accrued compensatory time. The compelled use of compensatory time challenged in this case


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