Home Employment Law Could a 4 Day Working Week ‘Work’ in Massachusetts?

Could a 4 Day Working Week ‘Work’ in Massachusetts?

muccilegal December 11, 2023

Momentum is building in support of a 4 day working week pilot program in Massachusetts. If a bill that will be debated in the state legislature (Bill H.3849) is passed, a two year program called the Massachusetts Smart Work Week Pilot could lead to the first reduction in the normal working week in the state since 1938 – 85 years ago!

Massachusetts is certainly not the only state, and the U.S. is not the first country, where a four day working week has been promoted. Several states have proposed doing just that, a 4 day school week has already been trialed in Missouri and Colorado and 4 day working week trials by a number of overseas businesses have largely, but not fully, embraced the idea.

What is meant by a 4 day working week?

The concept of a 4 day working week is based on a typical 8 hours a day, 5 day working week being changed to an 8 hours a day, 4 day working week, which would reduce the typical 40 hours a week to 32 hours. Of course, a ‘typical’ 40 hour working week is not so typical for many Massachusetts workers. Those on salaries rather than hourly wages, may not have such a well defined working week. School teachers, for example, may very well consider a ’40 hour working week’ quite atypical, with many teachers saying that 50 to 60 hours or more is more like the norm.

The 40 hour working week does have legal validity in terms of overtime pay, however. Both state and federal labor laws make it mandatory for employers to pay overtime rates of 1.5 times the normal hourly rate for any work done over 40 hours in any 7 day period. If the 4 day working week ever came into law following a successful pilot program, then this could mean that employers would have to pay their workers overtime rates if they worked more than 32 hours in a 7 day week.

The Massachusetts Smart Work Week Pilot proposal

Balancing improved job satisfaction with improved productivityThe proposal being submitted in the form of Bill H.3849 is for a two year pilot program involving a selected number of employers who would get tax credits for offering and promoting a 4 day working week to their workers without any loss in pay or benefits. Employers would be expected to pay their employees the same as they would for a 40 hour week, but they would actually work for 32 hours. During the proposed pilot program, employers would be compensated for taking part in the program. What would be keenly assessed during and after the program will be whether there would be  benefits to both employees and employers in offering the change.

The potential benefits of a 4 day week

Much of the enthusiasm for supporting the pilot program in Massachusetts has come from similar initiatives elsewhere in the country and overseas. It might be expected that most employees would be the first to welcome a reduced working week without a reduction in pay, but the proposal in the Bill will allow for employees to opt out of the program if they so wish. More controversially is what might employers get out of it?

At a hearing in November, Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College, provided evidence of the success of a similar program in the United Kingdom. Thousands of employees working for 61 U.K. companies were given the opportunity to work for 32 hours rather than the standard 40 hours. According to Schor, every one of the companies involved in the program decided that the benefits were sufficient to keep the 32 hour week. Benefits reported by employees included less burnout, improved mental and physical health, less stress and generally an improved attitude to their work environment.

About half the companies in the U.K. survey reported increased productivity, although this was only significant in 15% of companies, and ‘slight’ in a further 30%.

Closer to home, the town of Swampscott has already tried out a 4 day working week, although employees still have to work 40 hours, so they actually work more per day, with one day being an 11 hour marathon. Anecdotally at least, the experiment seems to have been reported favorably by some.

A 4 day week has been proposed in several other states. Maryland has deferred a similar program as the one proposed in Massachusetts after criticism of compensation by tax credits from some of the state’s businesses, but it may return as a potential program next year. New York and California have already legislated for overtime rates to be paid to workers who work in excess of 32 hours. Pennsylvania is going through the motions of debating a similar change in labor laws.

900 school districts across the country have also already returned for the fall having changed to 4 day school weeks. The Independence School District in Missouri has seen applications for teachers increase by a factor of 400% since the change to a 4 day week. Districts that have introduced the 4 day school week have primarily done so to try and attract teachers to their schools.

Could employee job satisfaction result in an increase in productivity?

Most workers benefit from working less for the same paySupporters of H.3849 claim that the benefits of increased job satisfaction and mental and physical health for employees who work for fewer hours should result in benefits for employers, too, especially improved employee retention, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, it might be said, and here in this state at least that depends on whether the Smart Work Week Pilot Program gets a chance to be sampled.



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