Secret Ballots and Government Notification?: What Employers Need to Know About Alternative Schedules in California

Gas prices continue to soar, and hourly employees are feeling the pain as more and more of their paychecks go right into their gas tanks. People are turning down positions 15 miles away from their homes, citing gas costs as the reason, and employers, also faced with rising costs of doing business in a down economy, aren’t able to match candidate demands. Facing constant pressure to keep wages competitive and costs low, what is an employer to do?

Many companies are coming up with creative solutions to this problem, and are increasing employee loyalty and retention at the same time. Some companies have instituted free public transportation passes, or are even going so far as to coordinate carpools for employees. It used to be that providing paid parking was a benefit for most employees, but now the real benefit is the company that can help them get to work. Even for local employers on the central coast, where public transportation is very limited, companies might consider contracting with a vanpool service to provide additional commute alternatives to their employees.

Alternative schedules are another way of dealing with this issue, and one that employers are increasingly exploring. Alternative schedules include a 4/10 workweek (four, ten-hour days) or what is known as the 9/80 schedule, which allows employees to work a 9-hour day, and take every other Friday off. Employees reap the benefit of these alternative schedules in the form of reduced commute costs and more days off, and employers often see increased employee retention and satisfaction using these schedules.

However, instituting an alternative schedule requires more than just a decision. In fact, California wage & hour regulations require a very detailed, multi-step process involving secret-ballot elections and notification to the State of any alternative workweek. The detailed language of the requirements for alternative schedules can be found in the Wage Orders promulgated by the Industrial Welfare Commission. (As a reminder, too, every employer is required to post the applicable wage order for your business, so you should also be able to locate this information on the bulletin board with the rest of your required postings.)

A few of the basics that employers should be aware of is that an alternative schedule can be put in place for the whole company, or just a department or work unit. So for instance, you may find that an alternative schedule will really benefit your hourly manufacturing staff, but won’t make much difference for your highly-compensated administrative staff. Because of the formality of the election process, make sure you survey your employees first and find out what will work for them, and what will work for your business needs. This saves the cost of conducting an election, and then having to re-do it because you’ve instituted a schedule that doesn’t provide the staff coverage you need.

Prior to the actual election, an employer is required to provide a written disclosure to all the affected employees, “including the effects of the proposed arrangement on the employees’ wages, hours, and benefits. Such a disclosure shall include meeting(s), duly noticed, held at least 14 days prior to voting, for the specific purpose of discussing the effects of the alternative workweek schedule.” What follows is then a regulation-mandated election process, and then notification to the Division of Labor Statistics and Research of the new schedule.

Any employer considering implementation of an alternative schedule should walk through the process required by the Wage Orders, and should make sure that their HR department is involved in the entire process, to ensure compliance with the wage order and seamless integration with payroll and benefits.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and even with the administrative burdens imposed by the State, many employers will see the benefit of instituting alternative workweeks. To make sure they’re legal, though, companies must make sure to comply with the IWC regulations, or risk severe penalties.

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