Maryland lawmakers recently withdrew a proposal to encourage companies to implement a four-day work week through tax credits.
The proposal, which would have established a five-year pilot program, giving Maryland companies tax credits to reduce weekly work hours to 32 without decreasing pay or benefits for employees. The bill, SB 197, was withdrawn due to concerns about its chances of passing in the state legislature, according to Del. Vaughn Stewart (D), one of the House bill sponsors.
The Four Day Workweek Idea
There has been a growing movement towards the implementation of a four-day workweek across the United States, with Maryland being one of the latest states to consider a related legislative initiative. The first-of-its-kind proposal in Maryland would have encouraged companies to test a reduced work schedule by offering them tax credits. The bill would have established a five-year pilot program in which companies could receive a tax credit for implementing a four-day workweek with part or all of their workforce. To qualify, companies would have been required to decrease weekly work hours to 32 without decreasing employees’ pay and benefits.
The bill sponsors, Del. Vaughn Stewart (D) and Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D), have confirmed that the bills were withdrawn because they did not have sufficient support. While a labor department study on the four-day workweek is being considered, lawmakers may return with a new proposal next year. The study would address how many Maryland businesses have already implemented a four-day workweek, what kind of technical assistance the department could provide for companies that want to adopt it, and how it would look for state agencies to shorten the workweek for their employees.
The idea behind a four-day workweek is that by having one less day of work, employees can have more time to engage in hobbies, spend time with family, get better sleep, and improve their overall well-being. If the idea works, you would get greater productivity and higher morale. More productivity for less work, it is a dream scenario, right? Moreover, reducing the number of days a workplace or school operates can lower operating and environmental costs for both businesses and society.
Supporters of the proposal, including the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, testified to legislative committees about the benefits of a shortened work week, including increased employee productivity and retention and decreased burnout and use of sick days.
Not everyone is on board. Some in the business community, including the National Federation of Independent Business, opposed the proposal, citing concerns about using tax dollars to promote a concept that could exacerbate the labor shortage by encouraging companies to employ more workers for fewer hours per week.
Growing Movement for Employee Flexibility
The four-day workweek has been a topic of discussion in the U.S. for some time, but interest has increased during the pandemic as many workers have shifted to remote work. Employers have been increasingly interested in implementing a four-day workweek and with the pandemic accelerating this trend due to concerns over employee burnout, retention, and attraction. And, let’s face it, employees have more power in the 2023 job market than they have had in years. But the growing evidence supporting the viability of this approach has also contributed to this interest. Many companies have attended information sessions and signed up for the initiative.
The Four Day Week Global Foundation published research in November 2021 from the first of several large-scale pilot programs, showing positive results for a few dozen US and Irish companies that tested out four-day workweeks last year.
This study, a six-month trial conducted by 4 Day Week Global that involved 33 companies with employees in six countries who had four days or 32 hours a week without a decrease in pay. The experiment was designed to determine if employees could remain productive in 80% of their time while still being paid the same amount. The outcome was resoundingly positive, with companies in the program reporting increased revenue, improved employee health and well-being, and a positive impact on the environment. Following the success, a hundred more companies, employing thousands of people, are contemplating or already implementing a similar approach.
Another study in the United Kingdom in 2022 involving 70 companies found that 86% of them have expressed their desire to continue with the four-day workweek model even after the trial’s conclusion. The firms cited benefits such as increased productivity and considerable financial savings for employees, especially with regard to transportation and childcare. Similar trials have been conducted in other countries such as Belgium, Spain, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, with equally encouraging results. As expected, employees have shown a strong interest in adopting shorter workweeks as a standard.
- Covenants not to compete in Maryland restrict employee flexibility in a different way