With us in your corner, the commercial side of your business is in safe hands.

Practical, focused and fast when you need us to be, we pay attention to the detail while keeping things moving – leaving you to stay focused on your next move.

Whether you’re buying, selling, structuring or investing in your business, let us do the heavy lifting so you don’t have to.

Legal expertise that supports your employees and your business. We’re always available and always ready to step in when you need us. 

Our breadth of expertise means you’ll be prepped and ready to handle the unique challenges of this fast-paced and ever-changing sector. 

Your business is unique. We’ll help you keep it that way. 

Our deep level of sector expertise means we’re the go-to law firm for clients leading the way in the low-carbon industry. 

Employer Q&A: The four-day week

The pros and cons of a four-day working week are a hot topic.   Proponents shout that it raises productivity (by increasing focus and more efficient workload management) and improves work-life balance (higher job satisfaction and less stress, sickness etc).  Naysayers point to struggles to maintain customer service, meet deadlines and an increase in recruitment and staffing costs (think increased hourly rates and the need for more staff to cover “off” days).

It is an attractive recruitment proposition in the modern labour market.  Is it here to stay? It looks likely in industries where the workforce can be structured to ensure that its needs are met, without leading staff to encounter four “extreme” days as opposed to five manageable ones.  There are certainly many examples out there of businesses who have found trials to be a great success, but there are also some on the other side of the fence.

What are the legal considerations?

1. How is it going to work?

Option A – Blanket reduction in hours for 100% pay (the four-day week model)

This is likely to be the most attractive “sell” to staff (more money for less work) and therefore the easiest to implement.  However, you should consider how it will work in practice, on the basis that you are not looking at reducing the workload itself.  Realistically will staff be able to generate the same output in four days, or will it create additional, unmanageable stress? 

Option B – Longer working hours on the working days (the compressed hours model)

This may still involve reduced hours, but on a lesser scale.  It may be attractive to some businesses where it will allow them to increase their opening hours by staggering staff working patterns.  However, you will need to consider how this will impact staff with other commitments, children, caring responsibilities etc.  Getting it wrong could result in discrimination claims.

Option C – Fixed contractual hours with the option for staff to work them on a four or five-day basis (the flexible hours model)

If you are considering this option, will staff have to adopt their chosen working pattern at the get-go or will they be permitted to vary from week to week?  This will most likely depend on whether the business needs to ensure that there are particular points of contact available on any working day, or whether there is no issue with employees managing their own workload. 

2. How are you going to implement the change? 

This will be a contractual change so you should treat it in the same way as any other contractual variation.  You will likely need to consult with the workforce and introduce the change with their agreement.  

If you have some staff who object, how will you handle them?  Will you let some staff switch and others not, or will you look to unilaterally impose the change in any event and with it the risk of possible employment claims, such as for constructive dismissal or discrimination.

3. What are you going to do about your existing part-timers?

Will those already on four-day contracts (or less), get a commensurate increase in pay to bring them in line with the status quo. If they do, will they be happy with the potential increased workload that comes with it, or will the expectations be different regarding their output, potentially justifying a lower salary?  Are you going to give your existing part-timers the option of proportionately reducing their hours for the same pay?

Part-time workers have the right not to be treated less favourably than their “full-time” counterparts unless that treatment can be objectively justified. You need to ensure all staff are being treated fairly and that you do not fall foul of the equal pay legislation.

Other practical considerations

In addition to the above, there are also a number of other considerations for employers to ensure that you do not act in way to undermine the implied term of mutual trust and confidence in the working relationship such as:

  • Who gets which days?
  • What happens on the “off” day? Will the employees be permitted to work for another employer?
  • How will you ensure continued compliance with the working time regulations?
  • If employees end up working on the “off day”, will they be entitled to overtime or time off in lieu?
  • Will annual leave be reduced to reflect the change? This would be usual for part-timers, but what about where the workload is to remain the same?

Trial period

Given the variables, it is advisable to test if the model fits your business on a trial basis before making any permanent contractual changes.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of employment law, Melanie Rowe (Legal Director), would be delighted to hear from you. You can reach Melanie on 07854 029922 or you can email her melanie.rowe@murrellassociates.co.uk. 

Key contacts

Melanie Rowe

Legal Director

Melanie Rowe

Legal Director

Employment issues can be tricky, but employment law expert Melanie is regularly praised for making painful processes easier.

More About Melanie