Over the past three decades, the expanding variety of available workplace flexibilities has provided potential applicants with an added incentive in seeking Federal agency positions. The Alternative Work Schedule (AWS) is the longest tenured flexibility initiative, tracing its origin to 1978. Since that time, the availability of AWS programs has become a key recruitment and retention tool along with the student loan repayment program that agencies can now offer to fill critical vacancies. In addition to reviewing the available AWS options, this post will also seek to provide some insight into the current usage of AWS across the government.
Description of AWS
The term “Alternative Work Schedule” encompasses two general types of work schedules, flexible work schedules (FWS) and compressed work schedules (CWS), each representing a variation to the fixed-schedule 8-hour, 5-day work week.
A FWS consists of workdays with (1) core hours and (2) flexible hours. Core hours are the designated period of the day when all employees must be at work. Flexible hours are the part of the workday when employees may (within limits or “bands”) choose their time of arrival and departure. Within limits set by each agency, a FWS can enable employees to select and alter their work schedules to best fit personal needs and help balance work and family responsibilities. There are various types of FWS arrangements that provide different degrees of flexibility regarding starting/stopping times and core hours. These include flexitour, gliding, variable day, variable week, and maxiflex schedules. OPM’s Handbook on Alternative Work Schedules defines each of these terms and provides a detailed analysis of each option.
If authorized by agency policy or a collective bargaining agreement for unionized employees, an employee may have the option of earning credit hours. These are hours worked in excess of an employee’s basic work requirement (e.g., 40 hours a week), which the employee elects to work in order to vary the length of a workweek or a workday. An employee may carry a maximum of 24 credit hours from one pay period to the next.
As a result of the flexible start/stop times, the overtime rules under an AWS are slightly different from those that apply to a fixed work schedule. When working under an AWS, overtime work consists of hours of work that are officially ordered in advance and in excess of 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. However, overtime does not include hours worked voluntarily, including credit hours, or hours an employee covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act is “suffered or permitted” to work that are not officially ordered in advance.
A CWS meets the basic work requirement of 80 hours in less than 10 work days. Arrival and departure times and non-workdays are fixed. There are no provisions for flexitime or gliding schedules under a CWS program, and credit hours are not permissible. Depending on the applicable agency policy or applicable collective bargaining agreement, employees may be able to select one of 3 CWS options:
- 5-4/9 Plan: Employee works 8 9-hour days and 1 8-hour day each pay period.
- 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.
A CWS cannot be established among non-unionized employees unless a majority of those employees vote to adopt it. In a unionized organization, only those employees in the bargaining unit are bound by the negotiations establishing the CWS program. Also, any employee for whom a compressed work schedule would impose a personal hardship may be excluded from the program.
Despite a dearth of historical data, available reports indicate that as much as 40% of the Federal workforce has participated in some form of AWS. The recently issued Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results for 2014 indicates that AWS is the single most popular work/life flexibility: 33% of responding employees participate in AWS. Employees consistently cite the scheduling flexibilities that AWS programs facilitate as a primary reason for increased morale and job motivation. Moreover, the Obama administration recently reinforced its support for AWS and other workplace flexibilities by requiring agency heads to make them available to the “maximum extent practicable.”
From a personal perspective, as both a former Office of Personnel Management attorney exposed to numerous agency policies and long-time AWS participant, I found that some form of AWS is widely available to Federal employees in the Washington, D.C. area. Moreover, employees occupying a broad range of clerical, professional, and supervisory job categories take advantage of AWS options where available.
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