Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Day-of-rest law may give some workers triple pay
Va. lawmakers' attempt to clean up the blue laws may have unintended results for employers.
The senator says his intentions were good, but you know what people say about good intentions.
A bill sponsored this year by Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Chesapeake, and signed into law has paved a road to potential woe for private employers in Virginia who require weekend workers or schedule seven-day work weeks.
At issue is a previously obscure "day of rest" legislation and the apparently unintended obliteration by Quayle's bill of exemptions that gave most companies a siesta from a related regulation.
In a news release this week, the state's Department of Labor and Industry spelled it out: "On July 1, when the legislation becomes effective, most employees in Virginia will be entitled to a day of rest and they will be able to choose to have Sunday or Saturday as their day of rest."
Businesses that don't comply face fines and an obligation to pay affected "non-managerial" employees three times their typical wage for their designated day of rest they were forced to work. Public employers, state and local governments, remain exempt.
Most private businesses were exempted until this session when Quayle's bill, according to the senator, "flew through the Senate," received "nearly unanimous support" in the House of Delegates, and was signed by Gov. Mark Warner without the governor's "blinking an eye."
Joyce Waugh, vice president for public policy for the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the organization worries the bill's side effects "could have some serious negative and potentially expensive implications" for employers.
Quayle said Tuesday that all he'd intended to do was clean up Virginia statutes by removing now unconstitutional provisions of Sunday "blue laws." Quayle said no one, including staff at Legislative Services who helped draft the bill, alerted him or seemed to notice that his bill also would remove day-of-rest exemptions for most private businesses - including manufacturers, medical services, restaurants, movie theaters, publishing operations like The Roanoke Times, and a host of other enterprises.
Those exemptions will go up in smoke come Thursday and Quayle and others are beginning to feel the heat. The senator was asked whether he'd fielded calls from businesspeople.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I will do absolutely anything I can to correct it when the Legislature reconvenes in January."
What about between July 1 and the next legislative session?
Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for Warner, said the Department of Labor and Industry "is taking a common-sense approach to enforcement and we'll see how that works out."
Ray Davenport, commissioner for the Department of Labor and Industry, said the department is obligated to investigate when it receives a complaint of a violation. "We can't pick or choose here," Davenport said. He said the department has about nine investigators.
Patti Bell, a policy analyst for the department, expressed similar thoughts.
"We're not going to send out a whole stream of people looking for violations, but if we receive a complaint we will investigate," Bell said.
There was, in fact, a state department that knew in advance what Quayle's bill could do to day-of-rest exemptions.
"The Department of Labor was aware that this piece of legislation was out there," Davenport said Tuesday. He said the department recognized the bill's "ramifications would repeal the exemptions."
Why didn't the Department of Labor alert Quayle or someone else in the General Assembly?
"It was discussed internally but we were not asked to comment on the bill at all," Davenport said. "Nobody raised a big red flag about it."
Now, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and others are raising that big red flag and asking Warner to intervene.
Meanwhile, Davenport said he is concerned that publicity about the repeal of exemptions will increase the number of complaints received by his department - a number he said has typically been about a half dozen filings a year.
The day-of-rest law holds that employers must allow employees at least 24 hours of rest in each calendar week in addition to regular periods of rest normally allowed or legally required each working day. Employees can designate by written notice Sunday or Saturday as their day of rest and employers can't fire or discipline workers who do.
Eric Earnhart, a spokesman for Carilion Health System, said Carilion is evaluating the changes to see "what, if any, adjustments we need to make to our current human resources policy."
Earnhart said Carilion generally "works very hard" to accommodate in scheduling employees' religious needs.
Larry Ryder, executive vice president of finance and administration for Hooker Furniture, said the company rarely works weekend shifts and does not anticipate problems associated with the lost exemptions.