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Legal pitfalls of the four-day working week

Employers considering a four-day working week should give careful thought as to how it is implemented in practice.

There are obvious attractions to both employees and employers. Employees should see improved work/life balance for no loss in pay. For employers, such a move could be positive both from an employee relations perspective and as a distinguishing factor in a competitive recruitment market. However, it may not suit everyone.

The UK four-day week:

Four-day week pilot: success for majority at mid-way point

Job adverts with four-day week up 90%

Four-day work week doesn't have to be a headache

While a four-day week might work well for office workers who work 9am to 5pm, it might be less feasible for those who work irregular hours or shift patterns or those paid on an hourly basis, for example in manufacturing or hospitality, or those in service industries where clients demand round-the-clock service.

It may also be less appealing for certain part-time workers, for example those with childcare arrangements who may prefer to work shorter hours but across five days.

Employers should consider how to avoid counter-productive behaviours and to make sure they don't run into legal issues. Workers may be tempted to skip breaks or work excessive hours on their four days to ensure they generate 100% productivity.

They should also be careful to ensure workers are receiving their entitlement to uninterrupted rest breaks and are not exceeding the legal limits on working time.

Communication and documentation will be key for any trial an employer decides to run. How long will the trial last and how will success be measured?

Employers will want to ensure they are not committing to a four-day week on a permanent basis until they can be confident it will work for the business.

This will also be relevant for any new hires that join during the trial. Whilst a new joiner may start on a four-day week basis, if they may be required to subsequently increase to five days a week, this should be clearly set out in their contract.

These steps will help to avoid a repeat of issues that arose for some businesses in bringing staff back to the workplace following the pandemic.

Researchers are monitoring the success of the trial and 4 Day Week Global are trumpeting positive survey results recently published at the halfway point - 86% of respondents indicated they'd consider keeping the new four-day week after the trial ends, with 80% of respondents reporting that productivity has either remained the same or improved.

Many employers will be keeping a close eye on the trial and its results and how it might shape the future of the working week.

Sarah Baker is senior associate and Tom Hunt associate in the  employment department at Travers Smith.