Just the beginning? California's four-day work week bill, explained

Is California's Assembly Bill 2932 a "job killer" or the future of work in the US?

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Over 47 million employees left their jobs in 2021. Many were searching for improved well-being and a better work-life balance.

Could the 4-day work week the solution? A group of California lawmakers thinks so, and they've introduced legislation (Assembly Bill 2932) to bring it into law. And although the bill is highly unlikely to pass any time soon, employers across the country are taking notice.

What's in the proposed new law? And which businesses would it impact? Learn more about the legislation and its future.

What's in the proposed law?

The proposed legislation defines a workweek as 32 hours rather than the current 40 hours – and the change would come with no cut in pay. Hourly employees who log more time would get at least time-and-a-half (salaried and gig workers likely wouldn't qualify for overtime).

Who would it impact?

The legislation would apply to all non-unionized private companies with over 500 workers. And unlike many four-day week initiatives, which up to this point have been led by tech firms and start-ups, this law would apply to everyone, including blue-collar workers. That's around 3.6m employees and 2,600 companies state-wide. If enacted – would represent one of the most significant shakeups of workers' rights in decades.

It's important to remember that California is a leader in workers’ rights (just this year, it introduced stringent new health and safety laws), so it’s possible that other states could soon follow its lead.

Have four-day workweeks been successful in the past?

Case studies are mounting up. A Microsoft Japan trial boosted workers' productivity by 40%, and Bolt recently made the 4-day week permanent after its productivity rose in a trial. Although Bolt's employees overwhelmingly favored the switch, 40% reported feeling more stressed as a result. That’s because not all four-day work weeks are created equal. Some represent condensed hours over a shorter period; some mean four days' work for the price of five (per the proposed Californian version). Many companies, like Kickstarter, are still in trial phases to see if they can continue embracing remote/hybrid flexibility. They see the 32-hour workweek as the next step in keeping talented workers.

What are the detractors saying?

The proposed legislation is a 'job killer,' according to California's Chamber of Commerce. They warn that it would be 'impossible to comply with,' would create cost and operational hurdles for employers, and ultimately drive jobs out of California and into states like Nevada and Oregon. Cramming the same amount of work into less time makes work much more intense, say other critics: Employees take shorter breaks and spend less time on social interaction, and while some workers thrive on the intensity, it makes others feel even more stressed.

What are supporters saying?

Proponents of the legislation point out that even pre-COVID, Americans were working longer hours with fewer vacation days than any other industrialized nation. And when millions of workers went remote, their average workday expanded by almost 50 minutes, causing a tidal wave of burnout. The proposed law aims to entice these workers back while leveling up employee wellbeing and quality of life.

Unsurprising, the four-day workweek is popular among workers who are excited by the idea of a three-day weekend to travel, run errands, spend times with kids, and save money on daycare bills. A Qualtrics survey found that 92% of people support working a four-day week.

And where do we go from here?

The idea of a 4-day work week is not going away. In Iceland, a large-scale pilot was such an overwhelming success that 85% of citizens moved to shorter hours or gained the right to negotiate for them. Further trials are underway in the US and Canada (35 organizations) and Ireland (30); a British trial of over 50 companies starts in June.

With decades in the staffing field, Adecco has worked with employers through countless changes in employment law, compliance regulations, and cultural shifts. Learn more about employer resources pages for more on all the trends shaping the world of work. And talk to us about how we can help prepare your workforce for whatever comes next.

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