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Our View: Suspension reveals law flaw

  • By
  • | 4:00 a.m. September 14, 2011
  • East County
  • Opinion
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The recent case of Manatee County Sheriff Lt. John Murrell being slapped with a three-week suspension is appalling, but revealing. In a reasonable world, Murrell would be lauded, not sharply disciplined.

Here’s the deal. Murrell is a 26-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who manages 18 school resource officers and two sergeants. An anonymous complaint was filed saying Murrell was fudging overtime documents.

The department investigated and found that accusation was, indeed, true. The internal investigation concluded Murrell “failed to properly document his overtime hours on his sheet.” Apparently he did this almost as a rule and knew it.

But was he cheating taxpayers out of money? Out for some ill-gotten gains? No. The complete opposite. He was putting in extra hours and not putting in for the overtime. He was doing more and not asking for more. But in our world, where government attempts to protect everyone from everything, that is just not acceptable.

See, there are rules in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act that regulate the relationship between an employer and employee. Those rules say overtime worked must be paid, even if the employee voluntarily wants to do the necessary work. The government steps in and says no, there may be a chance of employer coercion, and so the employee must be paid.

What happens in reality is it is one of thousands of government rules that tamp down hard work and extra effort, the things that allow a worker to get ahead. It is the legally enshrined attitude that has attended to union shops for decades. It’s an overly invasive law meeting all the laws of unintended consequences.

The entire responsibility falls on the employer to make sure this rule is not violated. If it is — even if the employee voluntarily works extra and the employer was unaware of it — fines can be as much as $100,000 per violation.

A serious question is: Who would complain about Murrell? Maybe some small person who could see that Murrell’s extra effort was making others look bad? Who knows. It will be kept secret. But it stinks.

Because of the law, we can sympathize with Sheriff Brad Steube needing to do something. After all, he cannot afford to put the department at risk of fines. But the three-week suspension is harsher than needed to send the signal to any future bureaucrats or lawyers that the department understands the rules.

The message of this sad tale is abysmally obvious: Do not go above and beyond the call of duty. Do not
do an iota more than is required. Do not offer your time for the betterment of your office and your community. Do only what you are paid to do and no more.

We can’t laud Murrell for knowingly violating the law, but we can laud his selfless self-sacrifice of going beyond. We need more of that, not laws blocking it.


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