In this current work climate, it’s all about work-life balance. Employees know what they want and if it’s not being offered at one job, they will search for it elsewhere. This has employers scrambling to offer higher salaries, greater benefits, hybrid or remote work options, or even four-day work weeks to keep up with the competitive job market. All these perks seem fine and dandy to attract employees but if you’re considering a shift to a four-day workweek, it’s important to know the legal implications this could impose.

How do Four-Day Workweeks Work?

Four-day workweeks can be implemented in different ways depending on the nature of your business. Typically, employees work their same (8-hour) workdays but only four days a week, meaning they are only working 32-hour workweeks, while still receiving the same pay and benefits. Alternatively, some businesses have changed their daily working hours to 10-hour days but only four days a week, amounting to a usual 40-hour workweek. Another tactic is employees agreeing to a reduced-hour workweek while also reducing their pay to compensate for the difference.

The concept behind a four-day workweek is that even while working reduced hours in a week, employees are happier and, therefore, just as productive. Happy employees are always a good thing, right? But, proceed with caution – below are the legal implications employers need to keep in mind if making this change.  

Employment Standards and Hours of Work

Luckily in Ontario, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) is broad enough that a shift to a four-day workweek, at 10 hours a day, would not breach the maximum hours an employee can work per day. Employers can already establish a regular workday to be more than 8 hours, as long as it does not go over a maximum of 48 hours a week. Employers should ensure that adequate breaks are being provided and always assess any risks that may be associated with a longer workday, including potential health and safety issues. 

What about Overtime? 

Again, in Ontario, a four-day workweek would not affect overtime pay, as we do not have a daily overtime limit. Overtime pay is only a factor when employees work over 44 hours a week. This may differ depending on your province and governing employment standards legislation, as some provinces have daily overtime limits that may be breached if you are considering 10-hour work days.

Changes to an Employment Contract

Employers should always be aware that any fundamental change to an employee’s terms of employment without their consent (which includes changes to hours of work) may trigger a claim for constructive dismissal. Not all employees will be grateful to have to upkeep the same workload in reduced working hours. For those thinking of switching to 10-hour workdays, this would also be a fundamental change that cannot be imposed unilaterally by an employer without your employees’ consent. If you’re considering both a reduction in working hours and a reduction in salary for this cutback – this is also grounds for a constructive dismissal claim, if not mutually agreed upon.    

Human Rights and Potential Accommodations 

Human rights issues should always be top of mind for employers. It may be that an employee cannot work longer hours due to family status, religious practices, or a disability. Employers have a duty to accommodate up to undue hardship in these situations and should always work with their employees to figure out the best accommodation, which may be different working hours. 

In conclusion, transitioning to a four-day workweek is not as simple as cutting a day off your usual schedule. It involves a comprehensive review of existing employment contracts and both operational and employee considerations. 

If you have questions about implementing a four-day workweek get in touch for a consultation.