California eyes four-day workweek for larger firms

A bill proposed in the California legislature is already drawing fire from business, with one group warning that a shorter workweek would “discourage job growth” in the state.

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A four-day workweek could be mandated for some California employees should a proposed bill be passed by the state’s legislature.

The bill, introduced by two Assembly members, Cristina Garcia (D-Dist.58) and Evan Low (D-Dist. 28), would amend existing legislation in the state and reduce the typical workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours.

Work in excess of 32 hours would be paid at a rate of at least one-and-a-half regular pay, and, most significantly, the Assembly Bill 2932 would require employers to pay employees the same amount for 32 hours as they would for 40. This would enable staff to work the equivalent of four eight-hour days, rather than five.

The change would apply to businesses with more than 500 workers, with certain exemptions, including having a collective bargaining agreement with a union.

Similar rules have been proposed at the federal level by US Rep. Mark Takano, (D-CA.), who last year proposed legislation that would also shorten the workweek from 40 to 32 hours.

"After two years of being in the pandemic, we've had over 47 million employees leave their job looking for better opportunities," Garcia said in an interview with CBS News. "They're sending a clear message they want a better work-life balance — they want better emotional and mental health, and this is part of that discussion."

The California Chamber of Commerce opposes the new measure on the grounds that it imposes “a tremendous cost on employers and includes provisions that are impossible to comply with,” exposing businesses to litigation under the Private Attorneys General Act. The bill would also “discourage job growth in the state and likely reduce opportunities for workers,” said Ashley Hoffman, policy advocate at the California Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to Low.

Thomas Lenz, a lecturer at the USC Gould School of Law, told Computerworld the legislation “may create cost and operational hurdles for employers struggling to meet staffing goals.” He added that, should the legislation pass, employers with over 500 employees might consider scaling back their operations “to minimize risk and potential exposure.” 

Though calls for a four-day week are not new, the idea has gained momentum in recent years, partly driven by businesses rethinking working practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While critics say it will create complexity and incur additional costs for employers, supporters of the idea highlight improved worker well-being in four-day week trials, even leading to higher productivity.

Numerous companies are currently conducting trials, including Kickstarter, Qwick and Unilever. Hospitality gig-work platform Qwick, for example, began trialling a shorter workweek earlier this month. At Qwick, workers will switch from their typical five-day, 38-hour week to 32 hours a week spread over four days. (They would get the same pay as for a five-day week.)

The trial applies to Qwick’s full-time staffers and will run until July, when the company will evaluate whether it was a success.

However, the number of companies that have switched permanently to a four-day week remains low and it is unclear whether recent momentum will lead to mainstream adoption. Last month, job posting site Indeed told Computerworld that less than 1% of job postings on March 11 included the term “four-day week.. A Gallup survey of full-time U.S. employees in March 2020 — just before the COVID-19 pandemic upended many business practices— indicated that only 5% put in four days a week, with 84% working five days (and 11% working six days a week).

Many four-day week initiatives are aimed predominantly at office workers, rather than other parts of the workforce such as those in service industry jobs. The California bill would affect all non-exempt employees.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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