A workweek has different meanings depending on who you talk to so it’s no surprise that business owners can get a little lost on the topic.
The common definition differs from the payroll definition, which makes it particularly difficult to sort out. But sort out you must, because when it comes to business the payroll definition is the one that counts since that’s the one used in wage and hour disputes.
Let’s start with our day to day definition of a workweek:
“The total amount of hours or days that you spend working at a job in one week.” – Merriam Webster
It is this definition that gives us the idea that a workweek is Monday through Friday and a weekend is Saturday and Sunday. So you’ve got a workweek and a weekend.
But when you’re talking about payroll, there’s no such thing as a weekend. There is just a week, a workweek.
According to the Department of Labor a workweek actually includes all seven days, whether you work them all or not.
The reason is this:
In order to define how overtime should be calculated you need to define a period in which to calculate it. This must include all seven days of the week because a person could work any of those seven days.
“Workweek (any fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours — seven consecutive 24-hour periods)” – DOL
The definitions differ in the week’s length and regularity. While the common definition could include five days Monday through Friday one week and four days Wednesday through Saturday the next week, depending on when the person actually worked, the DOL’s definition requires that the workweek is always seven days long and that it always starts at the same time. The DOL’s definition is more of an abstract workweek rather than an actual workweek. It recurs week after week regardless of whether anyone actually works.
Set the Workweek and Forget It
In trying to figure out when to start this abstract workweek you’ll want to choose a date and time when your employee is typically not working. So, for an employee that works a standard Monday through Friday, nine to five schedule, you probably don’t want to start your workweek at 8:59am on Monday because the employee might come in early occasionally. The best time and day to start a workweek is before their normal week of work begins (here’s where the common definition comes in handy!) and at a time when they don’t normally work.
The typical time and date of the workweek is Sunday at midnight. The majority of workers don’t work at that time so it’s a good general time to use. However, if you had a night worker whose schedule was Tuesday through Sunday, the best workweek might start at noon on Monday. For employees that don’t work a regular schedule, it really doesn’t matter when you start it.
Customizing a workweek to suit your own needs is totally agreeable to the DOL but you do need to be sure and keep it the same from week to week. You can change it if the employee’s regular schedule changes but this is generally a rare thing.
Changing the Workweek Changes Overtime
The Workweek May Not Match the Pay Period
Unless you run payroll on a weekly or biweekly basis and your employees work a regular schedule that begins at the beginning of the week, overtime for a given workweek may not be captured on the check for that period.
Basically, if the pay period cuts a workweek in half, the overtime from that workweek isn’t paid until the next check. This can be a little tough to wrap your head around but it’s worth noting that overtime doesn’t always show up on the check the that employee expects to see it on.
We don’t typically recommend that users change their workweeks within our software because it can lead to confusion but if you understand all this then go right ahead and customize away!