Summer is almost here! With longer days and warmer nights on the horizon, many employers may be thinking about offering shortened or altered work weeks to their employees.  Such arrangements can boost employee morale, improve productivity and efficiency, and create an attractive recruiting tool.

A variety of approaches are available to employers interested in implementing a summer hours or flexible work schedule. For example, some employers compress the work week into four days, granting Fridays off; some allow employees to leave work early on certain days without making up the time; and others require employees to report to work earlier than normal, but permit them to leave early or take Friday afternoons off. While choosing which type of summer policy is right for your employees is important, it is also important to keep in mind the legal impact of such decisions.

Here are some of the considerations employers interested in establishing a summer hours work schedule should keep in mind:

  1. Optional vs. Mandatory Schedules: Will the summer schedule be mandatory for all employees, or optional? The implementation of a mandatory policy runs the risk of frustrating employees who are happy with their current schedule. For example, some employees have obligations that may conflict with a summer hours policy that requires employees to work longer hours Monday through Thursday, or a policy that requires an earlier start time. Optional summer hours policies allow more freedom for employees to manage their own time, but employers will need to monitor performance to make sure employee productivity remains steady.  Furthermore, employers must keep in mind their own needs and make sure the business won’t suffer as a result of a revised schedule.
  2. Stay Consistent: Generally speaking, employers who decide to implement a summer hours policy should make the schedule available to all employees to the extent practicable. An inconsistently applied policy has the potential to breed resentment within employee ranks and could leave employers vulnerable to lawsuits alleging discrimination. Employers should work with human resources and operations teams to identify the departments for which a summer hours schedule would be appropriate, and be able to articulate an easily understandable business reason for exclusion of any departments or groups of employees.
  3. Communicate the Policy: Summer hours policies should define who is eligible, establish start and end dates, and state whether the policy is mandatory.  Employers should make sure that, when communicating their summer hours policy, the message reaches all affected employees.  Failing to establish a clearly articulated policy could result in accusations of favoritism, or worse, unlawful discrimination.
  4. Exempt Employees: Even though they may work fewer hours during the summer months, exempt employees generally are entitled to their full salaries for each week in which they perform work.  Employers that deduct exempt employees’ pay based on hours worked run the risk of the employees losing their exempt status and, in turn, becoming eligible for overtime pay and minimum wage.
  5. Keep Track of Overtime: Some summer hours policies require employees to work longer workdays Monday through Thursday, but allow them to take all or part of Friday off. In these and similar cases, employers should be aware of applicable overtime laws.  For example, in California, employers must pay overtime for hours worked in excess of 8 per day, as well as hours in excess of 40 per week.
  6. Have management take the lead: When an employer establishes a summer hours policy for the first time, employees may be skeptical that they can actually leave early. In such circumstances, employers may want to encourage members of management to take advantage of the policy, so they can set an example for subordinates.

The implementation of a summer hours schedule may be a good idea for employers interested in boosting employee morale, increasing employee productivity, and attracting prospective employees. Before implementing such a policy, employers should consider both the benefits and potential burdens of a summer hours schedule, as well as whether such a policy aligns with the employer’s business needs.

For more information on flexible work schedules, please contact any member of Schiff Hardin’s Labor and Employment Group.