Four-day weeks could come back to bite firms

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Employment lawyers have warned professional service firms they could be
caught out when drawing up temporary contracts to reduce working hours.

Firms seeking to implement a four-day week, such as KPMG and law firm Charles
Russell, must be cautious as loop holes in temporary contracts mean staff could
refuse to return on a full-time basis in an upturn.

Employment lawyers are urging firms to check the fine print when drawing up
temporary contracts so they include a sub-clause stipulating the return to a
full working week when required, regardless of the end date on new contracts. If
there is no end date on new contracts, employees can choose not to return to a
full week.

Mark Mansell, employment lawyer at international law firm Allen & Overy,
said: ‘If there is no expiry date on the contract you cannot force employees to
go back to a five-day week unless it is stated in the contract.

‘Even if there is an end date on the temporary contract, things pick up
earlier, you need your workforce back and you want them to return to the
original working arrangements, it must be in the contract.

‘There has to be a section that says anytime before that date, if the firm
needs to, they can give notice and revert the contracts back to five-day weeks.’

Elaine Emmington, HR director at law firm Charles Russell, said: ‘We want
people to be here so we are first round the bend in an upturn.’

She added: ‘It is vital that you have review dates for return to work or an
end date on the contract so you can have your staff back should the economy
start to pick up.’

Creating an end date can be tricky as, if it is too quick, a firm could have
the same costing problems. Conversely, if it is too late, it could miss out on
having a full time workforce in an upturn depending on the notice period.

Mansell said: ‘It is a very tough task and you have to balance it just right
or there could be serious implications.’

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