Are four day work weeks the way forward?

25 October, 2018

Recently we have seen an increasing number of headlines regarding companies moving away from the traditional Monday to Friday work week, and instead adopting a four day week.

There are claimed to be numerous benefits to working this way, including increased productivity and a move toward the ideal of the “work life balance”. Before implementing such a change, what legal considerations do employers need to take into account when considering whether a four day week is the way forward?

The Concept

Different companies are adopting the four day week in different ways. The most common being:

  • Employees work the same number of hours, but condensed into four days rather than five thus lengthening the working day.

    Both the contractual hours and the pay and any employee benefits remain the same. The employer can decide either to have all employees off on the same day, or they can opt to stagger the workforce’s days off so that the workplace remains “open” for the usual Monday to Friday. The latter option seems to be most utilised in service sectors where clients expect uninterrupted service, especially where the clients remain on a five day week schedule.

  • Employees’ hours are reduced to four days worth rather than five, either with a pay deduction (a policy which Amazon has piloted) or preferably without a pay deduction, on the premise that your work fills the time you have, so by reducing the hours you work smarter, but not harder. The idea is that the same work gets done, but the increased productivity allows it to be completed in less time.

The Benefits

Employers who have implemented these types of work patterns have reported that their employees come back to the office more energised and are able to work more productively. Employees have more time to spend with their families and on their own interests, generally boosting employee happiness and contentment. Because of this, it has also been suggested that a reduced work week could reduce staff turnover which of course has lots of benefits including overall morale and in money saved on not having to keep recruiting and training new staff.

The Problems

  • It’s worth considering whether your current contracts and employee handbooks work as they are if you are thinking about moving over to a four day week. For example, if you have clients who expect you to be available Monday to Friday, you may wish to introduce a new policy in relation to covering workloads on days off.
  • It would also be wise to check how your holiday entitlements are worded, especially where some staff work four days, and the rest five. If you refer to entitlement in “days” this could be construed so that those working a shorter week are entitled to more holiday. It may therefore be more sensible to refer to “hours” of holiday to avoid this potential snag.
  • Perhaps of most significance, is whether a policy of increased hours to facilitate a condensed week could be seen as discriminatory. If longer hours are expected from employees, this could, for example, impact upon working mothers who have childcare commitments and have relied upon being able to leave the office in good time to collect children from schools. Employers must also consider any employees with disabilities who may not be able to work a longer day, either because of hospital appointments or perhaps their condition means they fatigue easily and cannot work a longer day. Of course if the scheme is voluntary (as most probably would be) this will not be an issue.

The Solution?

The reduced week concept is still very new in the UK so there is no perfect solution which meets both employer and employee needs, and the waters are still very much being tested.

What can be said for certain, is that if you are thinking about whether this is for your company, you will need to carefully consider your current contracts and handbooks before implementing any changes. Employers should also review their proposed new policies, their workforce and whether a change like this could be seen to detrimentally impact upon a protected quality under the Equality Act 2010 and therefore potentially give rise to a claim of discrimination.

Whilst both contract and discrimination claims may well be unlikely, if you have any concerns at all we recommend seeking legal advice.

Also if you would like any assistance on the ground implementing such a change for your workforce we are well positioned to provide this support through our HR consultancy service.