Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576, 19 (2000)

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594

CHRISTENSEN v. HARRIS COUNTY

Stevens, J., dissenting

ability and the use of comp time must be contained within an agreement. The "thing to be done" under the Act is for the parties to come to terms. It is because they have not done so with respect to the use of comp time here that the county may not unilaterally force its expenditure.

The Court is thus likewise mistaken in its insistence that under petitioners' reading, the comp time exception "would become a nullity" because employees could "forc[e] employers to pay cash compensation instead of providing compensatory time" for overtime work. Ante, at 585. Quite the contrary, employers can only be "forced" either to abide by the arrangements to which they have agreed, or to comply with the basic statutory requirement that overtime compensation is payable in cash.

Moreover, as the Court points out, ante, at 580, 584, even absent an agreement on the way in which comp time may be used, employers may at any time require employees to "cash out" of accumulated comp time, thereby readily avoiding any forced payment of comp time employees may accrue. 207(o)(3)(B); 29 CFR 553.26(a) (1999). Neither can it be said that Congress somehow assumed that the right to force employees to use accumulated comp time was to be an implied term in all comp time agreements. Congress specifically contemplated that employees might well reach the statutory maximum of accrued comp time, by requiring, in 207(o)(3)(A), that once the statutory maximum is reached, employers must compensate employees in the preferred form—cash—for every hour over the limit.

Finally, it is not without significance in the present case that the Government department responsible for the statute's enforcement shares my understanding of its meaning. Indeed, the Department of Labor made its position clear to the county itself in response to a direct question posed by the county before it decided—agency advice notwithstanding—to implement its forced-use policy nonetheless. The Department of Labor explained:

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