In a first-of-its-kind proposal in the United States, some Maryland lawmakers want to subsidize employers that choose to experiment with a 4-day workweek.
More precisely, it would subsidize employers that agree to try out a 32-hour workweek without reducing their full-time employees’ weekly pay, which is based on 40 hours of work.
In February, legislators in Maryland’s Democratic-controlled House and Senate will hold hearings on a bill that would offer state tax credits to companies that take up that challenge.
“The pandemic has taught us that how we view work is not set in stone but it’s something that we as citizens can control,” said Maryland Delegate Vaughn Stewart, one of the bill’s lead sponsors.
While many 4-day workweek experiments have been conducted recently in the US and Europe, no US state has offered to subsidize the cost of the experiment for its employers, Stewart added.
Employers that participate would have flexibility over how they allow workers to organize their shorter workweek, Stewart said. For some companies, eight hours a day for four days might work best. At other firms, some employees might prefer to work five days a week but end their days at an earlier hour to attend to their commitments outside of work.
“We’re not trying to prescribe to companies how they do it,” he said. “It may be more advantageous to have different approaches.”
The experiment should include both blue-collar and white-collar employers, Stewart added. “This is not just for corporate entities.”
To qualify for the credit, employers would have to participate in the program for no less than one year and no more than two. They would have to share data on their program’s results with Maryland’s Department of Labor.
The bill in its current form caps what the state would spend in total on program participants’ credits at $750,000 a year for five years. So if there is huge interest by employers, Maryland’s Department of Labor will have to select which ones may participate. In addition, the state would have to pay the costs to administer the program, which Stewart estimates might come in at $250,000 a year.
Stewart views the credit as a carrot to compensate employers for participating in what he hopes will be groundbreaking labor research at the state level.
Building on the success of prior experiments
The immediate impetus to introduce the bill in Maryland, Stewart said, was a recent report on the results of a shorter workweek trial for 903 employees at 33 different companies.
That trial, coordinated by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, along with researchers at Boston College, University College Dublin and Cambridge University, found that the majority of the companies experienced a boost in productivity and revenue, and most of the workers involved reported less stress, fatigue and burnout. And importantly, most participating companies said they didn’t plan to return to a five-day workweek.
Since none of the companies in that trial were specific to Maryland, Stewart said, “We want Maryland employers to experience the same productivity and profit gains.” And, he noted, it would help employees in the state to have more time for their lives outside of work.
When asked if he’s confident the bill would pass both chambers of the state’s legislature before the end of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2023 session on April 10, Stewart said he is “cautiously optimistic.” He added that he’s gotten more interest in this bill than in all the other bills he’s sponsored combined since he became a member of Maryland’s House of Delegates in January 2019.