The world’s largest trial of businesses moving to a four-day working week has been hailed a major success, with 57 of the 61 companies working across the UK saying they will adopt a permanent four-day working week. Rhian Radia highlights five legal issues employers might need to consider.
The trial of a four-day working week started in June 2022 and saw businesses of all sizes and across many different industry sectors restructure their working week with employees continuing to receive 100% of their pay but working just 80% of the time.
According to the trial organisers 4 Day Week Global, this has seen staff wellbeing dramatically improve, reduced sick days and productivity stay the same or improve.
When competition for talent and rising salaries are a daily challenge for employers, a four-day working week is a talking point now for both employers and employees.
How that four-day working week could be structured will vary from organisation to organisation. Some may choose to close on Fridays and extend the working hours for the remaining week, others will introduce rotas to ensure every working day is covered, and some may continue to work five days a week but with much shorter working days.
Whatever approach might be adopted, there are some legal points to consider.
Changing terms and conditions. Employers cannot unilaterally change the terms and conditions of employment contracts without first seeking the consent of their employees. If they do, they can expect constructive dismissal claims.
Whilst employment contracts might include ‘flexibility’ clauses in relation to hours, this will not mean that a contract can just be amended without discussion or agreement.
Part-time workers. Many businesses will already have staff working a three or four-day week with a pro rated salary. How will they react when their colleagues start working the same hours but on a full salary? Will part-time workers be able to argue they are being treated less favourably than their full-time colleagues, leaving the employer exposed to employment claims?
Productivity. A business will want to ensure productivity of staff working a four-day week. Policies and processes will need to be in place.
Off days. There is no legal right to disconnect from the workplace in the UK, raising the question of what happens should a colleague, customer or client need support on an ‘off-day’. It may be that staff need to be ‘available’ on an off day but if that requirement is abused, employees may question the point of a four-day working week.
Second jobs. With many people feeling the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, staff working a four-day week may be tempted to take a second job. Whilst it is rare for an employer to restrict what their employees do in their own time, they may wish to consider any potential conflicts of interest.
It is also worth noting that not every organisation participating in this trial chose to permanently adopt a four-day working week. An employer considering such a move may wish to trial it first, making sure it works for customers, suppliers and staff before going 2023 flex.
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The above is accurate as at 16 March 2023. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.