A four-day workweek in Maryland? Some lawmakers are pushing a pilot program

The 5-year pilot program would offer a tax credit to private and public employers that shift at least 30 employees to a four-day workweek for at least a year.

Published 2/4/2023 6:00 a.m. EST, Updated 3/6/2023 4:24 p.m. EST

Some lawmakers are proposing that Maryland employers test out a four-day workweek, without cutting workers’ pay or benefits.

The five-year pilot program would encourage private and public employers to shift a minimum of 30 employees to working four days a week for at least a year, said Del. Vaughn Stewart, a Montgomery County Democrat. Participating companies would be eligible for a state income tax credit.

Stewart said he was inspired by a study published last year by the not-for-profit 4 Day Week Global of 33 companies that reduced work time for a six-month trial period for their more than 900 employees, located primarily in the United States and Ireland. Workers and companies alike reported high levels of satisfaction with the trial, according to researchers.

Study participants reported lower fatigue, less burnout and better work-life balance. For companies, revenue and hiring rose, absenteeism was reduced and resignations declined slightly, the report said.

“We could be on the verge of a win-win possibility here,” Stewart said. “We can make employees’ lives richer and more fulfilling, while improving their employers’ bottom lines.”

The COVID-19 pandemic changed what people expect from work, Stewart said, as vast numbers of employees began working from home and having more flexible hours. “We saw what we thought was immutable and unchanging about how we viewed our work lives could be altered immediately and profoundly,” he said.

The bill also calls for companies participating in the four-day workweek pilot program to collect and share data. The state could use that to determine whether workers across a range of the socioeconomic spectrum would benefit from reduced working hours, he said.

Lisa Stickney, professor of management at the University of Baltimore, said she hasn’t looked closely at 4 Day Week Global’s study and can’t comment on its methodology or findings, but there is other work “showing that productivity definitely increases when people are less-stressed, less-burned out and have more time to rest.”

Employee stress and burnout has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and technology, which have made it more difficult for people to maintain a healthy work-life balance, Stickney said.

“Employees are so frustrated they’re walking away,” she said. “It should be a giant signal to employers there’s something wrong in the workplace, fundamentally.”

While she likes the idea of exploring a four-day workweek, Stickney raised concerns with the bill’s language.

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In its current form, the bill does not specify how much time would constitute a four-day workweek or address how hourly workers would be affected, she said. Stickney also said the state income tax credit may not be enough of an incentive to convince employers to participate in a pilot program, particularly public entities.

Stewart said legislators plan to amend the bill to clarify that a four-day work week would be 32 hours. For employers with hourly workers to participate in the program, they would essentially have to pay employees a higher hourly rate and the bill directs the Department of Labor to explore ways to encourage parts of the public sector to reduce work hours, he added.

Reservations aside, Stickney said, she feels encouraged that “the legislature in Annapolis is taking a step back and looking at the labor market and working conditions as a whole.”

Stickney believes the bill has a chance in the Maryland General Assembly. “This is a pro-labor bill. I wouldn’t be surprised if it passed. Maryland is a strong blue state,” she said.

Mike O’Halloran, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business in Maryland and Delaware, was critical that the bill leaves out small businesses.

“I don’t think there’s anything in the study the sponsor is citing as inspiration which justifies spending hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to incentivize a handful of companies that may be able to move a portion of their workforce to a 4-day work [week],” O’Halloran said in an emailed statement.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which represents at least 6,400 businesses across the state, is not taking a position on the bill, said Andrew Griffin, the chamber’s senior vice president of government affairs.

However, Griffin raised concerns that the legislation calls for state income tax credits to be offered to some businesses over others. Smaller companies and businesses that would not be able to implement reduced working hours, in the manufacturing sector for example, would not qualify for the benefit, he said.

Griffin also questioned whether companies would be willing to cut hours for employees without decreasing pay.

“Paying someone for work they’re not doing … I find it to be very interesting from a business perspective,” he said, adding that none of the chamber’s members have said they’d like to implement a four-day workweek.

Committee hearings are scheduled for later this month.