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Alternative Work Schedules (AWS)

The term "alternative work schedules" (AWS) encompasses two different work schedule variations--flexible work schedules (FWS) and compressed work schedules (CWS). Each of these represents a different kind of adjustment to the traditional fixed schedule of 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, which begins and ends at the same time each day.

FWS and CWS are established on an agency-by-agency basis. Subject to the obligation to negotiate with representatives of exclusive bargaining units, the decision to establish an AWS program is at the discretion of the head of the organization. An agency may determine the general policy, guidelines, instructions, and procedures for the establishment of AWS programs in its headquarters and field offices. The suspension of statutory overtime, premium pay, and scheduling provisions apply only to individual employees or organizational units participating in an AWS program.

Flexible Work Schedules

Flexible Work Schedules have a work requirement of 80 hours within a pay period. Each flexible schedule has a designated core time when employees are expected to be at work or on approved leave. The core time usually coincides with the busiest customer service times. Management establishes the parameters of employee options. There are several types of flexible schedules:

  • Flexitour: Agency establishes core time, employee preselects arrival and departure times;
  • Gliding Schedule: Agency establishes core time, employee may vary arrival and departure time daily;
  • Maxiflex Schedules: Agency establishes core time, employee determines remainder of work requirement. Employee may accumulate credit hours.
  • Variable Day Schedule: Agency establishes core time, employee may vary length of workday daily, within a 40-hour workweek.
  • Variable Week Schedule: Agency establishes core time, employee may vary length of workweek as well as workday.

Compressed Work Schedules

Compressed Work Schedules fulfill the basic work requirement of 80 hours in less than 10 work days. Arrival and departure times and non-workdays are fixed and established by management. However, there are no provisions for flexitime or gliding schedules under CWS program, and credit hours are not permissible. Management may offer one or more options and allow employees to select one.

  • 4-Day Workweek: Employee works 4 10-hour days each workweek.
  • 3-Day Workweek: Employee works 3 days of 13 hours and 20 minutes each work week.
  • 5-4/9 Plan: Employee works 8 9-hour days and 1 8-hour day each pay period.

By law, a compressed work schedule may not be mandated as the sole option for tour of duty hours in a non-bargaining unit unless a majority of employees in the organization vote to adopt a compressed schedule. In organizations in which employees are represented by an exclusive representative, but in which certain employees are excluded from the unit, only those employees in the bargaining unit are bound by the negotiations establishing the CWS program. Other employees are entitled to vote for or against participation in CWS. Also, any employee for whom a compressed work schedule would impose a personal hardship is to be excluded from the program.


AWS Case Histories

AWS Case #1—Budget Analyst Working Compressed Schedule.

The employee is a budget analyst, GS-12, and has worked for the agency for 12 years. He commutes 100 miles daily. In 1991, the employee opted to use an alternative work schedule. He works 4 10-hour days per week, flexing every Friday. The employee stated, "This schedule has been very convenient for me." His supervisor indicated, "The employee's productivity increased and his leave usage decreased. Both the organization and the employee benefitted from his 4-day schedule."

AWS Case #2—Management Analyst Working Flextime.

The employee is a management analyst, GS-12, in an administrative services division and has worked for the agency for 10 years. He works a flextime schedule in order to be home by mid-afternoon to care for his teenaged son and daughter after school. In 1992 the employee's wife, who is in the U.S. Army, was stationed abroad for a year. Flextime allowed the employee to assume full responsibility for his children during her absence. Specifically, the employee was able to maintain a rigorous schedule of doctors' appointments for his disabled son and to help care for his mother who, during a visit with his family, fell and broke her hip. Flextime has also allowed the employee to maintain positive leave balances and still care for his family's needs.

The employee's supervisor stated, "Having staff with flexible schedules has required me to become more adaptable in scheduling meetings and setting interim deadlines. However, the capacity to get work done has not been diminished. In addition, the entire staff works harder and is more responsible because they have more flexibility."


AWS Questions and Answers

What are the benefits of AWS?

There are many benefits for USDA. Under all of the schedules, employees are available in the office over a greater range of hours. This is particularly valuable for organizations that must deal regularly with nationwide operations. Leave conservation, as discussed above, is a benefit to the employer as well as the employee. Also, the perceived benefits to employees and the resulting improved morale can make availability of AWS a useful recruitment and retention tool.

Additionally, managers retain the flexibility to approve an AWS for one employee or a group of employees based on the work needs of the office and the demonstrated performance and reliability of the individuals involved. Like other work options, AWS is not an employee entitlement and a number of factors can be considered when weighing the benefits of AWS.

There are many benefits for employees, too. They gain the advantage of adjusting their hours of work to meet individual needs. They can conform their schedules to meet day care needs, to join car pools, to commute with a spouse, or simply to take care of personal business. The particular benefits vary depending on the schedule.

Under flextime, for example, employees can vary their work schedules by changing their arrival and subsequent departure time without notice to their supervisor, as long as they are at work during the office's fixed core hours. Employees gain the advantage of no fixed arrival time and can adjust their schedules for unexpected events such as weather, child care, transportation, or other problems.

A 5-4/9 compressed schedule presents different advantages. Having an additional non-work day every 2 weeks enables the individual to take care of a myriad of errands and personal business without requiring the use of leave. It also can be used to provide parents with additional time to spend with their children, which could reduce child care expenses. Judicious use of the 5-4/9 schedule can also lead to reduced leave usage, both annual and sick. Sick leave is conserved because employees are able to schedule routine medical and dental appointments on their day off, thereby reserving sick leave for use if they are actually incapacitated.

What are the potential concerns of alternative work schedules for the organization?

The major concern of AWS may be ensuring adequate coverage in an organization. While the extended hours of service will help provide service over a longer day, the depth of coverage may be reduced. Having employees absent 1 day per pay period under 5-4/9 can make scheduling meetings difficult or result in the supervisor having only a skeleton staff. Also, there may be periods when the supervisor is not present. However, these concerns may be addressed by appropriate scheduling and managerial control. Further, the supervisor's absence may provide an excellent opportunity for staff to gain experience as acting supervisor.

Are controls available to minimize the concerns?

Yes. The general guiding principle is that while supervisors will approve employee scheduling requests to the extent possible, they retain the right to limit the degree of personal choice available when necessary to meet the office's operating needs. However, it is incumbent upon supervisors to exercise good management practices and good planning in office scheduling.

Are these alternative work schedules available to employees who are in a bargaining unit?

Supervisors should check with their organization's labor relations staff for guidance on obligations to an exclusive union representative. Different bargaining units within USDA will likely have negotiated different AWS requirements. In those organizations where unit employees are not already participating in AWS, supervisors may have to fulfill a bargaining obligation. A labor relations specialist should be contacted before discussions in this area are initiated with employees.

May the supervisor change an employee's work schedule?

Yes. Supervisors may suspend or terminate employees' participation in AWS to meet agency needs. Before initiating such action for bargaining unit employees, however, supervisors should check with their organization's labor relations staff for guidance. Some examples that might compel a supervisor to take such action are: special projects requiring a "team" to work on the same schedule, travel, training, and long-term leave of an employee. If supervisors need to take such action, the employee should be given as much advance notice as possible.

Is an employee guaranteed approval for a flexible work schedule?

No. The supervisor must be able to manage workload requirements and provide for sufficient office coverage during the component's official hours before granting a flexible work schedule request.

Can flexible work schedules be changed?

Yes. Depending on the needs of the employee and the organization, schedules may be changed at any time. It is incumbent upon the supervisor, however, to manage workload requirements and provide for sufficient office coverage. If an employee knows in advance that he/she will have a need to report a bit later or leave a bit earlier on a particular day, he/she may request to modify the arrival time for that particular day (or other period of time). Such requests should be treated in the same manner as a request for leave.

What are the features of a 5-4/9 compressed schedule?

Under the 5-4/9 schedule, an employee completes his/her 80-hour biweekly work requirement in 9 work days, rather than 10 work days (e.g., by working 8 9-hour days and 1 8-hour work day in addition to time for lunch). During 1 day of the pay period, the employee does not need to report to work. Also, they will be able to request an individual starting time.

Who determines an employee's non-work day?

An employee may request any day as the non-work day subject to the supervisor's approval. The supervisor will review all requests to see whether they all can be accommodated or whether changes must be made. For example, if too many employees want the same day off to permit adequate coverage, changes will be necessary.

How is leave charged?

An employee may request and use leave as usual. Leave is charged based upon the number of hours of leave used, as judged by the employee's schedule. If an employee uses a whole day of leave on a day that is regularly scheduled as a 9-hour day, then the employee is charged 9 hours of leave. If the employee uses a whole day of leave on an 8-hour day, only 8 hours of leave are charged.

What is done when an employee travels or attends training?

Most periods of travel or training are of short duration and can be accommodated without changing the compressed schedule. If the travel or training will conflict with the employee's scheduled non-work day, the employee's schedule can be altered to change the non-work day for that pay period. If the travel or training will be 5 days per week for an extended period of time, the employee may have to return to an 8 hour day schedule for the duration of the travel or training.

What if an employee on 5-4/9 is promoted, reassigned, or detailed?

An employee who is working a 5-4/9 schedule and who is promoted, reassigned, or detailed out of the participating office should discuss scheduling with his/her new supervisor. In addition, if the employee remains within the same office under which he/she participated in 5-4/9 (or any other AWS), he/she should discuss the impact of participation on the work requirements of the new assignment.