Let’s say your employees come to work Monday through Friday. They don’t work at all on Saturday and Sunday. Monday through Friday is their workweek, right?
For payroll, there are no such things as business days and weekends. Every day must be accounted for when paying employees. That’s why it’s important to know the true workweek definition. So, what is a workweek?
What is a workweek?
A workweek is a fixed, regularly-recurring period of 168 hours. In other words, a workweek is seven consecutive 24-hour periods. Once a workweek ends, a new workweek begins. Every business can choose its own workweek, including the start and end days and times. Your business’s workweek might be different than the workweek of the business next door.
When does the workweek start?
The workweek can start on any day and at any time. It does not have to follow a calendar week.
For example, the calendar week begins on Sunday at 12 a.m. and ends on Saturday at 11:59 p.m. Your workweek doesn’t have to follow the calendar week. Instead, your workweek might start Wednesday at 6 a.m. and end the following Wednesday at 5:59 a.m.
The workweek must include seven consecutive days, whether or not you have an employee working on each of the seven days.
Why is a workweek important?
Workweeks are used for FLSA overtime compliance.
Nonexempt employees can earn overtime pay based on the number of hours they work in a workweek. If a nonexempt employee works more than the standard FLSA 40-hour workweek, you must give the employee overtime wages (one and a half times the regular pay rate, commonly known as time-and-a-half) for the extra time worked.
Because overtime hours and wages are based on the workweek and not the calendar week, you must have an established workweek.
Not having a workweek, or using another time period to calculate overtime hours, is considered FLSA noncompliance. You can get in trouble for incorrectly paying employees.
You should also consider your state and local laws. Some states and localities have stronger overtime laws.
How to choose a workweek
There isn’t a standard workweek. Each business can choose its own based on what will work best. You can customize both the workweek start day and time.
Typically, a business chooses to start its workweek at a time when employees are not working. It is easier to calculate regular and overtime hours if employees are not at work when a new workweek begins.
Let’s pretend that you have employees at work from 7 a.m. Tuesday through 11 p.m. Saturday. You could create a workweek that begins 12 p.m. Tuesday, but that is likely during an employee’s shift. In this situation, the first part of the shift could be overtime hours for one workweek. Then, the remainder of the shift would be the beginning of the employee’s hours for the next workweek.
You could also create a workweek that begins around the time when your employees first come to work. Using the example above, your workweek would start 7 a.m. on Tuesday. This might be an unwise workweek choice, though. If an employee clocks in early, they will have a few minutes in the previous workweek. Instead, you might create a workweek that begins 12 a.m. on Tuesday.
You can have multiple workweeks at your business. You can create workweeks to accommodate the work patterns of different groups, positions, and locations. Each employee should fall under a specific, fixed workweek.
Once you choose a workweek, document it. You should have a record of the workweek you use for your employees. You must have a record in case you are accused of noncompliance in the future.
Changing your workweek
Once you choose a workweek, you should not regularly change it. Consistently maintain the same workweek. However, you can change your workweek if necessary. You should not do so frequently, and you can’t change your workweek to avoid overtime wages.
If you do change your business’s workweek, you should intend it to be a permanent change. Frequently changing your workweek can look like you’re trying to avoid paying overtime wages.
FLSA workweek vs. pay period
Your workweek and your pay frequency might not line up.
If you run payroll on a weekly or biweekly basis, your workweek and pay period probably line up.
If you have a different pay frequency, the pay period might split a workweek into two paychecks. If this happens, the pay for a workweek, including overtime wages, will be split into two paychecks. You still calculate overtime wages by the workweek, not by the pay period.
Let’s say your workweek runs from 12 a.m. Sunday to 11:59 p.m. Saturday. Your business has a semimonthly pay period which ends on the 15th and the last day of every month. To keep things simple, let’s say a Sunday is the first day of the month. For this example, your pay period would cover two full workweeks plus the first day of the third workweek. The remaining six days of the third workweek would be in the next pay period.
When you use payroll software that pairs with a reliable time and attendance software add-on, you can make sure you consistently use the same workweek and calculate overtime wages correctly. Start a free trial of Patriot’s online payroll software. We guarantee accurate calculations.
This article has been updated from its original publication date of July 21, 2017.This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.