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Is an alternative workweek right for your business?

When competing for talented employees, many businesses look for new ways to provide flexibility to current employees and attractive options to potential hires. Taking advantage of California's alternative workweek is one way to accommodate the lifestyles of many employees, whether they have child care needs, work a second job or just want an extra day off. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, flexible or alternative workweeks are on the rise nationwide.

However, the alternative workweek model may not work well for every business. On its face, the benefits of an alternative workweek to employees seem obvious, but the needs of your business and your customers should also be carefully considered. California employers should also be aware that the state requires employers to follow a specific process when implementing it in the workplace, including a written proposal to employees, a secret ballot election, and reporting of the results to the California Department of Industrial Relations.

Evaluating an alternative workweek 

The feasibility of an alternative workweek depends on your workflow and customer demands. For example, while employees of a tech company might be able to work from wherever they have a laptop and an internet connection, a dentist's office requires more face-to-face patient interaction and consistently scheduled appointments. A small business may have more difficulties providing staff coverage for an alternative workweek than would a business with a large staff.

Effects on overtime pay

An alternative workweek allows employees to work more than eight hours in a 24-hour period without overtime pay. However, employers must still compensate employees with overtime pay for more than 10 hours of work per day and 40 hours in a workweek. For example, an employee with an alternative workweek could work four 10-hour days instead of the traditional five 8-hour days.

If you are planning on implementing a schedule in which employees would work more than 10 hours a day without receiving overtime, it is a good idea to consult an employment lawyer to make sure you comply with state and federal wage-and-hour laws. Failure to properly implement the alternative workweek pursuant to California law could result in having the alternative workweek invalidated. This could expose your business to significant liability for unpaid overtime, penalties, and fees.

Implementing an alternative workweek

To adopt an alternative workweek, two-thirds of your employees must vote in favor of the alternative workweek. Employers must also:

  • Propose the alternative workweek and its hours to employees before a vote
  • Provide a regular schedule to employees who do not want to participate in the alternative workweek
  • Conduct the vote via secret ballot and provide ballots in languages other than English as necessary
  • Report the election results to the Office of Policy, Research, and Legislation of the California Department of Industrial Relations
  • Wait 30 days before requiring employees to work alternative hours

The voting and implementation process is the same across all businesses, but the effects of an alternative workweek can differ. Considering the potential costs and benefits for your particular business can guide you in making the right decision for your organization.

A California employer considering an alternate workweek should seek legal guidance from an experienced employment lawyer who can assist them in navigating the process.

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