By Bradley D. DoucetteScott P. Mallery, and Noah A. Finkel

Seyfarth Synopsis: A new piece of legislation introduced in Congress, if enacted, would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to establish 32-hour workweek for non-exempt employees, with no loss in pay. While the bill is unlikely to gain steam, it might trigger movement throughout the country to revisit what a “standard” workweek means for American employees.

We posted this blog entry on a Friday, so if you are reading it today, you probably are not among those enjoying a four-day workweek.  Some in Congress are trying to change that.

Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced Senate Bill 3947, a “bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours per week to 32 hours per week…”

Also dubbed the “Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act,” the bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to establish a 32-hour workweek without any reduction in pay for non-exempt employees. This would lower the existing threshold for overtime compensation for non-exempt employees working longer than eight hours in a day and also protect pay and benefits of workers to ensure that this reduction in the workweek would not cause a loss in pay. The bill also proposes gradual reduction period where over the next three years, the 40-hour workweek standard would reduce by two years until the ultimate 32-hour mark is reached.

In support of the bill, Senator Sanders cites to increases in productivity by American workers as well as continued technological advancements which should be earning workers more pay for less work. He argues that weekly wages are actually lower for the American worker than they were 50 years ago, and this decrease paired with an increase in pay for CEOs and shareholders show that working class families also need to be able to benefit from increased productivity in American companies. To introduce the bill, the HELP Committee held a hearing with support of union and employee advocates, while an employe representative testified as to the negative impact the bill would have on employers and employees alike, including that it would be a “short-term success [but] long-term failure” likely resulting in operational and financial failure down the road for employers.

As seen with similar legislation, it is unlikely that this bill will gain much traction. As Seyfarth discussed recently, similar bills have quickly lost steam due to technical and practical challenges faced by employers who have for nearly a century navigated the peculiarities of a 40-hour standard. Our colleagues overseas also recently have discussed the global interest in moving to the 32-hour workweek and similar challenges employers are facing in the UK and Italy.

Although all current signs point to the bill not succeeding, with the recent rise is similar legislation––or at least discussions about it––we can expect more local interest in shortening the workweek and could see states individually try move towards a shorter workweek.

Until then, get back to work: it’s still a workday.