Two California Assemblymembers are looking to make a four-day workweek the law of the land in the state, responding to the "Great Resignation" and post-pandemic malaise about work.

The eight-hour workday has been the standard since Henry Ford first adopted it in the 1920s. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act set the work week at 44 hours, also establishing overtime payment requirements and a minimum wage, and creating age requirements for work. In 1940, the act that was amended to change the workweek to 40 hours, and ever since, it’s been not just the standard, but the law.

Even as that law passed, there were already people advocating for a shorter workweek than that, with some senators pushing for the standard to be set at 30 hours. Now, there’s a bill in the works in California that would bring the workweek closer to what those lawmakers envisioned.

Assembly Bill 2932 would set the workweek at 32 hours rather than 40. Any time worked past the 32-hour mark would fall into overtime, which would start at 1.5x pay. Past 12 hours worked, that jumps to 2x pay.

The bill would only apply to companies with 500 or more employees.

California Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia (D-Los Angeles County) and Evan Low (D-Santa Clara County) co-authored the bill.

“We’re hearing time and time again about greater worker flexibility,” said Assemblymember Low. “That’s what workers are demanding, and this provides us an opportunity to reimagine the workforce, uplifting the voices of workers, while also helping to ensure that we can do the type of things in a more efficient manner, and also taking care of our family and our loved ones.”

Assemblymember Garcia told the Los Angeles Times that she believes the pandemic allowed people to reimagine what the workweek could and should look like.

"We’ve had a five-day work week since the Industrial Revolution, but we’ve had a lot of progress in society, and we’ve had a lot of advancements,” said Garcia.

The California Chamber of Commerce, however, is starkly opposed to the bill. The Chamber added AB 2932 to its “Job Killer” list, arguing it, “Significantly increases labor costs by imposing an overtime pay requirement after 32 hours and other requirements that are impossible to comply with, exposing employers to litigation under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA).”

The CalChamber even sent a letter to Assemblymember Low, saying labor costs would be “untenable for many businesses” if AB 2932 were put into place.

“The repeated assumption by the Legislature that businesses with more than 500 employees can absorb these costs is deeply flawed. It does not take into account that businesses often operate on thin profit margins and that the number of employees you have does not dictate financial success,” the letter reads.

Researchers say that logic is flawed. Across the world, managers of companies that switched to three-day weekends said they saw higher productivity and increased employee satisfaction. Employees took fewer sick days and overhead costs within the office went down.

“Companies that make the switch may find it makes for a better work-life balance, allowing team members to become more engaged and more efficiently use their time and company resources,” Forbes reports.

The concept is not as new as we may think. The Society for Humane Research Management says 23% of organizations have already switched to a four-day workweek, and ZipRecruiter says its seen three times the number of postings mentioning four-day workweeks in 2022 as it did in 2019.  

AB 2932 has been referred to the Labor and Employment Committee. It has not yet been put up for a vote in the Assembly.

Photo: Marten Bjork on Unsplash