Establishing an AWWS is not something to be taken lightly though. There are very clearly defined steps that must be taken in order to have one, so make sure you have an HR professional in the loop to keep you in compliance during this process. Here are the basic elements:
- Creating the policy - The employer can choose to implement a single schedule or offer employees the choice of a menu of schedules to pick from. The alternative schedule must include the regularly recurring number of days and hours, which employees it will apply to and how it will affect their wages and benefits. A notice of any meetings discussing the AWWS can also be included and must be provided at least 14 days before it can be voted on. While not a requirement, it's usually a good idea to think about how this alternative schedule will be affected by holidays.
- The secret ballot - One common misunderstanding regarding an AWWS is that it is at the sole discretion of the employer. In fact, the employer can only present this alternative schedule to the affected employees, who must then be allowed to vote on it by a secret ballot before any work is done during business hours. The employer must hold the ballot on the worksite of the affected employees and bear the cost of conducting the ballot. The AWWS must be passed by a 2/3 vote.
- Reporting the ballot results - The results of the secret ballot must be reported by the employer to the Division of Labor Statistics and Research within 30 days after the results are final. The report will be a public document and must include the final tally of the vote, the size of the unit, and the nature of the business of the employer.
- Implementing the AWWS - You must wait at least 30 days after the results of the ballot are reported before you can have employees work under the AWWS. This time can be helpful in allowing supervisors to begin organizing their teams to ensure coverage is available on all of the days of the week.
At the very least, this process takes 6 weeks to complete, so think very carefully about the need to have an AWWS before investing this much time and energy into it. Also, once the AWWS has been approved, it can always be repealed by a 1/3 petition by the affected employees, which would require yet another secret ballot to be conducted.
Overall, the alternative schedules can be a valuable tool to manage the costs of overtime when the business hours extend beyond a traditional 5 day, 40 hour workweek. However, an AWWS is probably not a good solution in situations where you are simply understaffed, but must provide output in specific time frames, requiring long hours each day. The alternative schedule is very likely to be repealed in these cases, so there's not much sense in going through the trouble of setting one up to begin with. You may be better off looking to other forms of mitigating overtime costs, like whether any of your staff may qualify as exempt or streamlining processes to improve efficiency. HR professionals are trained to consider all of these solutions when addressing the needs of the employer while keeping the workplace compliant, because understanding why you're ruling out an option is just as important as finding the right solution.