A Labour MP has tabled a parliamentary bill that would effectively cut the working week for all employees to four days (‘the Bill’). Peter Dowd, the MP for Bootle has introduced a bill to amend the Working Time Regulations 1998 to reduce the maximum working week from 48 hours per week to 32 hours. The Bill has had its first reading in the House of Commons and a second reading will take place on 9 December 2022.
This comes as 70 companies and over 3300 workers are currently taking part in a trial of a four-day week, with no loss of pay. The trial, which started in June and will run through to November 2022, means that workers will receive 100% of pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100% productivity. A survey taken at the halfway point suggests that the trial is going extremely well, with 86% of employers stating they are likely to continue with a four-day week once the trial comes to an end.
Sharon Platts, Chief People Officer at Outcomes First Group, which has 1,000 staff and is the largest organisation taking part in the UK trial, says the four-day week pilot has been “transformational” for the company. Sharon said, “We’ve been delighted to see productivity and output increase and have also been able to make it work in our education and care services, which we thought would be far more challenging.”
The pandemic has led to increased support among UK workers for a four-day working week paving the way for a new workplace structural dynamic as the five-day week just doesn’t reflect the needs of the modern world. The idea behind the reduced working week is to reduce risk of employee burnout and improve quality of life. However, there are a number of factors an employer will need to think about in the event that this Bill is approved, or such a change is made in the future including:
- Contractual variations – adopting a four-day week is likely to require contractual variations. An employer would need to consider whether it should implement new contracts or seek to agree any amendments. It is unlikely that an employee would disagree with an amendment, but it is something that could arise and should be considered.
- Amendments to policies – an employer may need to consider revising its policies. For example, if overtime is awarded based on the number of hours worked per week, the policy will need to be amended.
- Avoiding claims of discrimination
- Consideration would need to be given to ensure that part time staff are not treated less favourably. Those employees already on flexible working patterns may currently have their pay pro-rated to reflect that they work fewer days. This would need to be adjusted if the full-time equivalent working week is reduced from five days to four.
- Some employees may have a need to take a particular day off for example for religious reasons or caring responsibilities. An employee may request a new day off on a consistent day and refusing this could give rise to a claim of indirect discrimination.
- It may be that work is required on the fifth day. Managers need clear guidance as to when it is acceptable to ask an employee to undertake what would be ‘additional work’ to avoid the risk of grievances/allegations of discrimination.
- Normal working hours – an employer would need to be careful not to allow the reduction in working days to lead to longer working hours on the days staff are in work. Standard contractual hours should not be altered as this would detract from the concept of 80% hours for 100% pay.
- Will employers need more staff to maintain their output? The idea behind the trial is that they would not, but this is not practical for all industries. Some employers may need to consider increasing their workforce and therefore their costs output, to ensure demand continues to be met.
- Attracting and retaining staff – many employers are struggling to fill vacancies. Many employees want to work flexibility and take active steps to support their health and wellbeing. Reducing the amount of time they are required to work without reducing their pay is likely to be highly attractive to a potential employee making it easier to attract and retain staff.
It is still early days in relation to the progress of the Bill through Parliament, and it remains to be seen as to whether the Bill will be approved. However, it will be interesting to see whether this new working pattern is adopted by an increasing number of employers irrespective of the outcome.