NHLA staff advocates to protect weekly paychecks for low-wage and hourly workers
By STEPHEN TOWER
This column originally ran in the Concord Monitor on May 4, 2016. On May 5, 2016, the New Hampshire Senate voted to table this bill, protecting low-wage and hourly workers and preserving the simple, no-risk compliance checks for employers that exist in current law.
On Thursday, the New Hampshire Senate will vote on a bill that helps no one, and could create new and overwhelming difficulties for our state’s low-wage workers.
Under current law, most hourly workers are entitled to weekly paychecks unless the employer gets an exemption from the Department of Labor. HB 1252 would change the default to biweekly (every other week) paychecks.
Under the current law, the employer has only to fill out a one-page form to request an exemption. The Department of Labor then verifies that the employer has worker’s compensation insurance and (if there are 15 or more employees) a safety summary form, and confirms that the employer has not had any problems making payroll. If everything checks out, the Department of Labor grants the exemption and it applies indefinitely.
If everything doesn’t check out – for example, if the employer doesn’t have worker’s compensation insurance – the Department of Labor denies the request and tells the employer that it can reapply after it is in compliance. The employer does not get a warning or penalty. In other words, the employer gets a risk-free compliance checkup.
If an employer is paying biweekly without an exemption, the Department of Labor gives them a warning for the first offense. The employer can then simply apply for the exemption. The exemption process is time well spent for the Department of Labor and employers. It gets problems solved without the need for inspections and possible warnings and penalties.
HB 1252 does not have a fiscal note and there is no evidence that it will save the state any administrative time or expense. If the Department of Labor can’t help employers get in compliance through the simple exemption process, they may end up having to do more inspections, which could increase administrative time and costs.
Employers who have their ducks in a row don’t need HB 1252. They can avail themselves of the simple exemption process. Employers who don’t have their ducks in a row benefit from the soft touch the Department of Labor employs during the process. Low-wage workers, though, will face considerable hardship under HB 1252, as more employees are defaulted to biweekly paychecks.
New Hampshire’s high cost of living means low-income workers often struggle to save, making it difficult to prepare for unexpected expenses like a car repair or a spike in fuel prices. They’re also less likely to be able to access cheap credit. Adding more unpredictability to low-income workers’ paychecks will leave them even worse off.
If a failing employer starts missing payroll, the Department of Labor will catch it much more quickly if the employer is paying weekly. A worker with a biweekly pay schedule could be several weeks in arrears before the department gets involved.
Weekly payroll also better reflects an hourly employee’s cash flow needs. For example, if an employee works 60 hours one week and 40 hours the next, weekly payroll makes sure the employee is paid valuable overtime in the first week when she may need it most, for example to pay for extra childcare or commuting costs.
Biweekly pay schedules are particularly difficult for part-time workers with irregular working schedules. In New Hampshire, 142,000 workers are part-time workers, and 83 percent of part-time workers report having unstable work schedules.
It’s hard enough for New Hampshire’s working families – particularly hourly workers, part-time workers and workers with irregular schedules – to make ends meet. HB 1252 will make it even harder. I urge readers to contact their state senators today and tell them to vote it inexpedient to legislate tomorrow.
(Stephen Tower is a staff attorney at New Hampshire Legal Assistance, with a focus on employment law. NHLA is a statewide nonprofit law firm representing low-income and elderly New Hampshire residents who cannot afford a lawyer. NHLA maintains offices in Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Manchester and Portsmouth.)