California’s Unique Overtime Laws Have Significant Environmental Costs

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California is one of four states with more stringent overtime laws than the federal government. In addition to restricting the types of schedules that employees can work, these unusual overtime laws increase gasoline consumption and air pollution.

California is one of four states with more stringent overtime laws than the federal government. In addition to restricting the types of schedules that employees can work, these unusual overtime laws increase gasoline consumption and air pollution.

Under the national Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must pay overtime after 40 hours in a work week. In California, however, employers also must pay overtime whenever employees work more than 8 hours in a day. Rather than benefiting employees, this law actually deprives them of the ability to work the types of schedules they want: compressed work weeks that utilize 9, 10 or 12-hour work days in exchange for fewer days of work.

The annual benefits of a compressed work week for employees are compelling:

  • Up to 87 fewer days of work (equivalent to a 3-month vacation) with no loss of income
  • As much as 78.5 fewer hours spent commuting to work
  • Up to $1,360 lower vehicle operating costs (equivalent to a 3% raise for the average commuter)

According to Dan Capshaw, a partner at Shiftwork Solutions LLC, 75 percent of the tens of thousands of workers his company has surveyed prefer to work longer shifts so they can have more days off each week. “The California law discourages employers from adopting compressed work week schedules because of the overtime costs. Simply put, it’s cheaper to work people more days a week to avoid paying overtime after 8 hours a day.”

With compressed work weeks, fewer commuting trips are required. The reduced mileage will cut fuel consumption and lower vehicle emissions. It only takes a small percentage of employees to adopt shorter work weeks to produce a significant impact on the environment. For example, if 5 percent of the workers in California adopted compressed work weeks, vehicle mileage will drop as much as 1.3 billion miles a year. This will reduce annual gasoline consumption by 62 million gallons while lowering car emissions the equivalent of 108 thousand vehicles. Since a majority of the workforce prefers shorter work weeks, a 5 percent conversion rate is probably conservative. Clearly, the potential for energy conservation and improved air quality is there.

Jim Dillingham, another partner at Shiftwork Solutions LLC, states, “Compressed work weeks have been proven to be a safe, productive alternative to long weeks of 8-hour shifts. Employees clearly want the extra time off. And with more cars off the road, there would be significant environmental benefits.” He concludes by stating, “There really is no logical reason for the restrictive overtime laws in California. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy.”

Consultants from Shiftwork Solutions LLC have helped hundreds of companies in a variety of industries to develop shiftwork solutions that satisfy business requirements, employee preferences, and health/safety considerations. The company’s two partners, Dan Capshaw and Jim Dillingham, have worked as consultants in this specialized field for more than 15 years apiece.

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Bruce Oliver