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Make Alternative Work Arrangements for Employees

A company’s ability to attract and retain employees with the expertise it requires relates increasingly to the human side of the day-to-day working experience — the general atmosphere that prevails in the workplace. This includes, in particular, the extent to which company practices help people balance the pressures they face at work with the pressures they have to deal with at home.

Benefits packages in employee-friendly companies often feature policies to help staff better balance work and personal priorities. These policies may include anything from allowances for childcare and eldercare to a sensitivity to simpler, occasional needs.

Workers in employee-friendly companies can count on the support of their employers whenever a medical emergency occurs, for example, or, on a happier note, some special event takes place at their children’s school. Permission to attend to these matters is granted almost implicitly.

One of the most popular ways to help employees improve their work/life balance in recent decades has been the scheduling concept known as alternate work arrangements. Flexibility is the basic idea behind alternate work arrangements. You give employees some measure of control over their work schedules, thereby making it easier for them to manage non-job-related responsibilities.

By making it easier for employees to deal with pressures on the home front, they’ll be more productive when they’re on the job — and less likely to jump ship if one of your competitors offers them a little more money.

However, before jumping into an alternate work arrangement, you must consider its legal impact.

With certain groups of employees (hourly employees or unionized workers, in particular), flexible arrangements can easily run counter to existing agreements. You should check, for example, the laws on overtime pay before adopting a compressed schedule for any employee. Some states permit compressed workweeks as long as they’re created and administered according to strict regulations.

Also, the U.S. Department of Labor, Internal Revenue Service, and other federal or state authorities may challenge your classification of a former employee-turned-contractor, which could result from some phased retirement arrangements.

Separately, one condition for employees to qualify as exempt from overtime and other wage and hour mandates is the receipt of a predetermined amount of pay that does not change because of variations in the quantity of hours worked. Employees otherwise classified as exempt could lose that status under a job sharing or phased retirement program if their pay drops below the statutory minimum.

Alternate work arrangements are generally grouped into the following basic categories:

  • Flextime: Flextime is any arrangement that gives employees options on structuring their workday or workweek. Typically employees working under flextime arrangements are expected to be on the job during certain core hours of the workday. They’re given the opportunity to choose (within certain parameters) their own starting and ending times — as long as they work the required number of hours each day.

  • Compressed workweek: Under this arrangement, employees work the normal number of hours but complete those hours in fewer than five days. The most common variation of the compressed work week is the so-called 4/10, in which employees work four ten-hour days rather than five eight-hour days.

  • Job sharing: As the term implies, job sharing means that two part-time employees share the same full-time job. Salary and benefits may be prorated on the basis of what portion of the job each worker shares. Apart from the obvious consideration (both people need to be qualified for the job), a successful job sharing arrangement assumes that the employees can work together harmoniously to make the arrangement work.

  • Telecommuting: Telecommuting is any work arrangement in which employees — on a regular, predetermined basis — spend all or a portion of their workweek working from home or from another noncompany site.

  • Permanent part-time arrangements: The hours in these arrangements usually vary from 20 to 29 hours per week, with employees sometimes allowed to decide which days they work and how long they work on those days. The key attraction of this arrangement is that the employees may be entitled to company benefits, albeit on a prorated basis.

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