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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Workweek

What Is a Workweek?

A workweek is any seven, consecutive 24-hour periods established by an employer, for a total of 168 hours in a workweek.

The workweek may start on any day of the week. For example, some employers may choose to start their company’s workweek on Monday and end on Sunday, while others will start on Thursday and end on Wednesday.

On an individual basis, a workweek may refer to the number of hours an employee works during those seven consecutive 24-hour periods. For example, most full-time wageworkers work 40 out of the 168 hours. 

For hourly workers, any additional time worked beyond 40 hours during a workweek is categorized in payroll as overtime pay and paid at an increased rate.

Meanwhile, salaried employees, also known as “exempt” employees, have no limit to the number of hours they can work during a workweek, receiving a fixed salary no matter how many hours they work.

How Long Is a Workweek?

A workweek is 168 hours long and must not exceed this limit.

For individual employees, a workweek is as long as they are scheduled to work during that period. For part-time employees, their hour count could vary drastically but must be below 40 hours a week to still be considered part-time. In the case of full-time employees, a standard workweek is set by U.S. law at 40 hours.

How Is a Workweek Defined Under FLSA?

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a workweek is defined as a fixed, recurring period totaling 168 hours (seven 24-hour days). 

Why Is a Workweek Important?

The workweek is an important distinction that forces employers to define overtime pay and remain compliant with the FLSA.

Overtime Pay

The workweek is the basis for determining the total overtime pay that is due to employees under the FLSA. Employers may not base overtime compensation on how many hours an employee works during a pay period (which often covers two weeks). If that were the case, employers would only offer pay for hours that exceed 80 during the two-week pay period. 

Measuring working time by workweek, requires employers to pay their non-exempt employees an overtime rate for any hours after the first 40 of each workweek.

FLSA Compliance

Employers must adhere to this workweek definition in order to remain compliant with the FLSA. A noncompliance conviction may result in fines of up to 10,000 dollars, with a second conviction resulting in imprisonment for the guilty employer.

Can I Change My Company’s Workweek?

You can change your business’s workweek, but there must be a legitimate reason for doing so. For example, let’s say your business was previously closed on Monday, and you used that as the start of your workweek. Then, you decide to remain open on Mondays and instead close on Saturdays. In that case, you would want to change the beginning of your workweek to Saturday.

A word of caution: changing the workweek too frequently may make it appear as though you’re trying to avoid paying your employees overtime wages.

When Was the Workweek Invented?

The elements of the present-day workweek (40 hours generally spread over, five days each week) existed before the FLSA became official. While calls for the eight-hour workday date back to the mid-1800s, the first major company to adopt a standard 40-hour workweek was Ford Motors in 1926.

The defined workweek that the United States observes today was invented after the FLSA was enacted in 1938, which was created to support the health and well-being of factory workers. In the act, a 44-hour workweek was established as law but was later amended to 40 hours in 1940.

How Do I Choose When to Start My Workweek?

Employers should start their company’s official workweek on a day when their employees don’t work. It is much easier to calculate payroll when your employees are not actively gaining hours.

For example, say your business is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 AM to 7 PM. While the workweek would technically start on Tuesday for your employees, having an official start on Monday will make it easier to differentiate overtime hours from regular hours.

Using Multiple Workweeks

But what if your business runs seven days a week? The best way to approach this is to create multiple workweeks that apply to different groups of employees.

For example, say your business has three different work schedules: Monday through Friday, Tuesday through Saturday, and Wednesday through Sunday. Each of those work schedule groups could have different workweeks, starting on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday respectively. This would allow you to calculate overtime and regular pay on a day those employees do not work.