Thursday Troubleshooter: Should our office adopt an alternative work schedule?

Are alternative work schedules a good idea?

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QUESTION: I’m starting to hear of dental practices turning to their staff and asking them to vote to implement a schedule of four- to 10-hour days (alternative work schedules). Our office is in the dark as to why, how it works, and whether it is beneficial to employees? Are those offices that are on this schedule satisfied with the outcome?

I feel that a 4-10 schedule is much more advantageous than a 5-8 schedule. It's really a win-win scenario for everyone involved. In addition to helping overhead costs, it actually helps keep the schedule full. Patients seek out the early morning and late afternoon appointments, and filling the middle gap can be hard. Whether it means starting a little earlier and/or working a little later, those new appointment times will be easy to book. This is a time of "furlough" days; we’ve even seen some of our schools go to a four-day school week, and it's saved tremendous amounts of money, kept more teachers employed, and kept student attendance higher. Yes, there will be some life changes as far as when staff members leave or get home from work, but the positives outweigh the negatives for everyone involved. Take this as a positive change because it will allow you a three-day weekend with typically no decrease in salary! I work a four-day workweek, and the extra time it provides me to spend with my family is worth its weight in gold.

ANSWER FROM TIM TWIGG, Bent Ericksen & Associates and CRC, Inc.:
I’m not sure if you’re specifically referring to dental practices in California or practices in other states. Given that you referenced “alternative work schedules,” and given that California is the only state with this specific provision, I’ll focus my answer on California.

In California, there is a law that requires overtime compensation if employees work more than eight hours in a day. This requirement is on top of the federal regulation mandating overtime pay for all hours worked over 40 in a week. This can wreak havoc on a dental practice that, for many reasons, may need to work more than eight hours in a day regularly. The overtime pay can really add up.

To allow both employers and employees some degree of flexibility to work longer hours in a day without having to pay overtime, California created the Alternative Work Schedule (AWS) option. Thus, for the practice working four days per week (with the weekly total less than 40 hours), implementing an AWS can be a cost-saver for a dental practice. For a practice that regularly works overtime, the AWS can save a typical dental office between $10,000 and $20,000 per year in overtime pay. That can make a big impact on a practice’s bottom line.

California did not, however, make the AWS an easy thing to implement. There are seven total steps that need to be followed and properly documented before it can be established at a practice.
Briefly, the seven steps are: 1) written disclosure must be given to employees 2) a staff meeting must be held to discuss the issue and vote on it 3) a secret ballot vote must be conducted in which two-thirds of affected employees must approve 4) a written agreement with each employee must be signed 5) reasonable accommodation must be extended for existing employees adversely affected 6) there must be government reporting to the Division of Labor Statistics and Research, and 7) the office must post wage order 4-2001.

Once the AWS is established, employees can work more than eight hours in a day and not be paid overtime. But there’s a catch. There are still many ways overtime can be incurred, so it does not solve the whole problem. Also, the federal regulation never goes away — all hours over 40 are paid at the overtime rate, regardless of an AWS.
There are a plethora of other regulations surrounding an AWS, and many areas that can cause significant liability if not handled properly. The best thing for any employer to do is consult with us to guide the office through the process. Failure to follow the steps or properly implement the AWS causes the program to be null and void, and should an investigation from the Department of Labor ever occur, the practice may have some significant liability with back overtime pay and penalties.

We provide an Alternative Work Schedule manual that comes with a step-by-step guide, forms for proper documentation, and one hour of consultation time with our on-staff AWS expert. Let me know if we can be of service to you in this regard.

Is the AWS beneficial to employees? The only thing it does for employees is compress their workweek. For those looking to work only three or four days a week, this can be a great thing. Others may not care much about it. This is precisely the reason the AWS must be voted on and approved by employees. They will lose out on overtime pay once this is implemented, and they should agree that it’s worth it in the long run.

As Linda Miles indicates below, most employees, when given the choice of working five days per week or four days per week, will choose the four day per week schedule.

While a few other states have specific overtime requirements that supersede the federal 40-hours per week, no other state is as restrictive as California, and no other state specifically has an Alternative Work Week provision. Thus, practices in other states can implement a workweek schedule of their choice, but they need to remain mindful of the 40-hour per week overtime trigger.

ANSWER FROM LINDA MILES, founder of Speaking Consulting Network:
I’ve seen many dental practices turn to alternative work schedules and not stick to the norm of five 8-hour days. Some state laws are very strict regarding having the employee work longer hours in a day (requiring mandatory midmorning and afternoon breaks). If they go over 40 hours in the week — which in this scenario and if a practice ran late would most likely be the case — then the practice must pay overtime wages.

Most dentists work four days per week and they do it in eight or nine hours, which means the team works 32 to 36 hours in most cases. Some of my clients like a four-day break twice per month, so they work Monday through Thursday one week and Tuesday through Thursday the next week, which gives them a four-day break twice per month.

To answer “How does it work and do the team members like a four-day week?” Yes, most of the dental team members are mothers and they love having a day off to go to appointments and catch up on chores and have weekends free.

Do YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed?

Send your questions for the experts to answer. Responses will come from various consultants associated with Speaking Consulting Network and Dental Consultant Connection. Their members will take turns fielding your questions on DentistryIQ, because they are very familiar with addressing the tough issues. Hey, it's their job.

Send your questions to All inquiries will be answered anonymously every Thursday here on DIQ.

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