Among employers used to headlines about the Golden State’s unique and often trendsetting labor laws, a conference speaker’s mere mention of California’s labor code is enough to draw knowing — if muted — laughter.
Earlier this year, a group of California legislators once again sought to amend the state’s labor code, this time with proposal AB-2932. If passed, the bill would revise the state’s definition of “workweek,” changing it from 40 hours per week to 32 hours per week. Hours worked in excess of the 32-hour workweek would need to be compensated at no less than time-and-one-half of the employee’s regular rate of pay; the bill would only apply to employers with 500 or more employees.
As of early May, AB-2932 sits in committee in the State Legislature, where it failed to clear an April 29 advancement deadline, local news outlet KABC-TV reported, pausing the effort for now.
In the event such a measure does pass, it would create a variety of questions and “a lot of chaos” for employers in the state, said Ethan Chernin, management-side attorney at Cozen O’Connor. Immediate concerns include the possibility of rising overtime costs and the need to hire additional staff.
Chernin explained that employers may seek to split up certain jobs to more easily meet the requirements of a 32-hour workweek. “If they’re going to keep their normal business hours, they might have to start hiring two people to fill one job,” he said, adding that, in the event the bill becomes law, an employer might decide to split one employee’s 40-hour workweek into two separate 20-hour workweeks instead.
Such a scenario would have implications for employees, too. If hourly employees see their hours cut, they may decide to seek additional jobs or otherwise cut back on break time, Chernin said.
The aims of AB-2932 are reflected in an overarching HR discussion as employers move to more flexible work schedules in competition for scarce talent. For example, a number of employers have already moved from a five-day to a four-day workweek, and Qualtrics survey data published in April showed that the overwhelming majority of employee respondents said they wanted their employers to adopt a four-day workweek.
Employees in Qualtrics’ survey cited work-life balance, productivity and mental health improvements as reasons for implementing a four-day workweek, and interest in adopting shorter workweeks has increased across several industries. In May, transportation company Sysco announced it would adopt a four-day workweek for its truck drivers and warehouse associates as part of a bid to improve retention.
The 32-hour workweek also is being adopted by some firms internationally, either as part of a trial or as a permanent fixture. One six-month trial beginning this year will involve some 70 employers in the U.K., NPR reported.
While Chernin said he has not heard much talk about AB-2932 among clients, he said the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted views on work-life balance and led to different discussions about which flexible work models could be implemented.
For example, some clients have discussed moving to a four-day schedule consisting of 10-hour days, Chernin said, while others have discussed shortening Friday hours to be limited to the window between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
An employer’s perspective
Not all employers buy into the benefits of a 32-hour, or 4-day, workweek. A change like that proposed by California legislators may cause issues for organizations, Alicia Garcia, chief culture officer at Utah-based software company MasterControl, told HR Dive in an email.
“The biggest issue with a four-day workweek is that it is still rigid,” Garcia said. “When approached by employees, the most common request is ‘flexibility.’ Rarely does the number of hours an employee works surface in a discussion.”
As an organization with technical support operations across multiple regions during various times of day, companies like MasterControl may struggle to provide sufficient customer coverage under a 4-day workweek, Garcia said. Instead, she said, it may be more effective for employers to implement more general flexibility policies that allow for employees to take off for appointments, family outings and other routines.
Trust in managers and supervisors is key to this strategy, Garcia said; “They should be empowered to allow flexibility in their teams. Unfortunately many supervisors have lost their power over the years from red-tape-corporate-policies. By developing a culture of trust, where managers are trusted to make the best decisions and in turn they trust their teams to ensure work is covered, you’ll develop your future senior leaders and recruit the very best talent in the market.”