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Alternative Work Schedules for Better Work/Life Balance

EverythingHR Staff | 07/05/2018 | Blog


An increasing employee desire for work/life balance is encouraging employers to re-examine work schedules. A great solution is the alternative workweek schedule, whereby nonexempt employees can choose to work beyond 8 hours at straight time in return for a shorter work week.

Detailed rules exist for such arrangements, and to pass legal muster with the Industrial Wage Commission (IWC), certain major steps are required to implement an alternative workweek.

10-hour days in a 40-hour work week

Nonexempt employees in a definable work unit (described below) may accept an alternative workweek schedule comprised of not more than 10 hours/day in a 40-hour workweek.  Workers in the health care industry are covered under Wage Order 5 and may work a regularly scheduled day of up to 12 hours at straight time. (Note: not all health care-related companies are covered under Wage Order 5.) Finally, no regularly scheduled day may be less than 4 hours.


Overtime must be paid at time and a half for all hours above the regularly scheduled hours for that day up to 12 hours.  Double time must be paid for all hours in excess of 12.  Once a schedule is published, overtime is automatic for work performed on those days that are not part of the regular schedule.

There is one exception. Employers may switch days once a quarter and not be penalized with the “different day” overtime. Further, the employee may switch days on an occasional basis for personal reasons without the requirement to pay overtime. Lastly, overtime is allowed to be scheduled (if overtime premiums paid) on a “reoccurring” basis, but not on a “regular” basis.

The “work unit”

A work unit is any group of nonexempt employees that is identifiably different according to an objective business factor.  It may be a department, a clearly recognized group in a department, a certain shift, location, etc. – the definition is rather broad.

The employees in the designated “work unit” should vote on the proposed schedule. Before the work unit votes, the schedule must be communicated (the number of days, the hours each day).  At this point the names of the days are not published.  Also published must be the overtime requirements mandated by law, and discussion meetings must be held.

The secret vote

Two-thirds of the affected group must accept the alternative schedule by a secret vote. Once passed, two-thirds of the group must actually work the schedule. The employer must try to accommodate employees in the group that cannot or don’t want to work the schedule.

IWC regulations state that the employer must report the election results “to the Division of Labor Statistics and Research within 30 days after the results are final, and the report of election results shall be a public document. The report shall include the final tally of the vote, the size of the unit, and the nature of the business of the employer.”

Canceling the arrangement

An alternative workweek schedule may be canceled at any time by the employer. The schedule may also be repealed by the affected employees. Employees must petition at least “one-third (1/3) of the affected employees, a new secret ballot election shall be held and a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the affected employees shall be required to reverse the alternative workweek schedule.”

Employers should follow their particular IWC Wage Order regulations when establishing an alternative workweek schedule. The exact procedures you must follow are set forth in the Wage Order. There are 17 Wage Orders in California, and every company is covered by at least one of them. Make sure you refer to the appropriate Wage Order for your company. Improperly established alternative workweek schedules can result in significant long-term pay liabilities.


By EverythingHR, the preeminent human resources expert serving employers nationwide.