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Where did the 8 hour, 5 day work week come from? Ford Motor Company in 1914, but it was a long time coming.  Before that, factories were open around-the-clock with employees working long days and 100 hour weeks. In the late 1880s, a labor movement started using a slogan like “eight hours for work, eight hours for play and eight hours for rest”.  After that, it took almost 20 years until Ford reduced employees’ regular work week to 5 days consisting of eight hour days. The company also doubled employee pay, causing shockwaves throughout the industry. By doing this, Ford saw employee productivity increase and profit margins double. The thinking was that if the company was going to make any money, employees needed time off to buy things.  Seeing the success of Ford, other companies naturally implemented the eight hour day, which soon became the working standard.  So there it is, the reason the 8 hour, 5 day work week exists in our country for over a century is nothing more than an old effective factory work schedule.

Where is the 8 hour, 5 day work week going? No one really knows, but times they are a changing and the days of factory workers fighting for shorter days and benefits are behind us.

The recent pandemic will ultimately be the new turning point in the work week game.  Prior to COVID-19, many companies had started to offer employees alternative work schedules. The 10 hour, 4 day work schedule with a 3 day weekend was popular. Shorter working days and/or leaving early on Fridays during summer was another common work benefit.

The pandemic will shape a new future for the standard work week and likely make changes to the usual 9 to 5. Some employers may begin to allow trusted employees to set their own hours to fit the mutual needs of the company and the employee. Not everyone wants a long commute when web conferencing and advanced technology have made telecommuting a real possibility. For others, the distraction of home and family and loss of the interaction with co-workers may make working at home unappealing. The pandemic has certainly accelerated the telework trend but the question is whether this trend will continue post-pandemic.

Employers find some employees willing to take wage cuts to work at home and some telework employees may have greater job satisfaction. However, employers need to gauge how their work-at-home employees manage their time, how employee morale is affected and whether these employees are more or less efficient when working at home. Employers may save money from lower overhead and reduced absenteeism but may have a harder time managing a telecommuting staff.

No matter where the pandemic leads us and what schedule your employees work, you must still follow the federal wage and hour laws.  A few things to always keep in mind:

  1. All employees must be appropriately compensated. Non-exempt employees must accurately record and submit their time. If a non-exempt employee works more than 40 hours in a week, they must be paid overtime. And, like it or not, the overtime must be paid even if you didn’t approve or authorize it.  Be mindful of work off-the-clock, keep accurate timekeeping records and be sure to pay minimum wage.
  2. Not all salaried employees are exempt from overtime pay. There are very specific requirements relating to who can and cannot be classified as exempt. Improperly classifying employees will ultimately lead to big problems. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the type of work performed by your exempt employees. To maintain exempt status, your employee must perform exempt work as their primary duty.
  3. You must pay employees for any break they take less than 20 minutes long, whether or not they clock in and out. This time must be used in your weekly calculations for overtime. In contrast, you do not need to pay employees for breaks that are 20 minutes or longer, so long as the employee performs no work during the break.  Employers should not automatically deduct a set amount of time (30 minutes/one hour) from the employee’s work time as a meal break.

Like Ford in 1914, companies will begin to consider whether the standard in-office, 8 hour, 5 day, 40 hour work week is still the ideal standard for them and their employees. Whatever you ultimately decide, having clear policies in place will benefit both the company and its employees.

*Special thanks to Lynn Derenthal, who assisted in the drafting of this post. Lynn is a Paralegal in our Fort Lauderdale office.