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Handbook on Alternative Work Schedules

The information in this handbook is guidance. Where requirements are stated, we have cited law or regulation.

For more information on alternative work schedules, email at


The purpose of this handbook is to provide a framework for Federal agencies to consult in establishing alternative work schedules and to provide additional information to assist agencies in administering such programs.

This handbook, with its appendices, provides detailed information on the administration of flexible and compressed work schedules, jointly referred to as alternative work schedules or AWS. However, this handbook does not cover every situation that may arise under an alternative work schedule or other work scheduling options available under 5 U.S.C. 6101. Moreover, since AWS programs for bargaining unit employees are established by negotiated agreements, bargaining unit employees and their supervisors and managers should consult the applicable collective bargaining agreement for its AWS provisions.

Although the decision to establish an AWS program is at the discretion of the agency head, this discretion is subject to the obligation to negotiate with the exclusive representative(s) of bargaining unit employees. Consequently, references in the following pages to actions that agencies may take in implementing AWS programs should not be construed as authorizing unilateral action where bargaining unit employees are concerned.

Note 1: Terms are defined in the definitions section. Readers unfamiliar with the terminology of alternative work schedules will find it helpful to review these definitions.

Note 2: For information on the labor relations aspects of establishing and terminating alternative work schedules, see the Labor-Management Relations Guidance Bulletin, "Negotiating Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules," July 1995, OLRWP-12, which can be downloaded from OPM ONLINE, (202) 606-4800.

Under 5 U.S.C. 6122, a flexible work schedule includes designated hours (core hours) and days when an employee must be present for work. A flexible work schedule also includes designated hours during which an employee may elect to work in order to complete the employee's basic (non-overtime) work requirement.

Under 5 U.S.C. 6121(5), a compressed work schedule means that an employee's basic work requirement for each pay period is scheduled (by the agency) for less than 10 workdays. See the definition and requirements for regularly scheduled work in 5 CFR 610.102 and 5 CFR 610.111(d).

Compressed work schedules are always fixed schedules. (See Comptroller General report B-179810, December 4, 1979.) Another difference between flexible and compressed work schedules is that an employee on a flexible work schedule may be credited with a maximum of 8 hours towards the employee's basic work requirement on a holiday or Sunday (see 5 U.S.C. 6124 and the definition of Sunday work in 5 CFR 550.103), whereas the number of holiday or Sunday hours for an employee on a compressed work schedule is the number of hours regularly scheduled for the employee to work on that day if not for the holiday (see 5 U.S.C. 6128(c) and (d)).

There is no authority to establish hybrid work schedules that borrow selectively from the authority for flexible work schedules and the authority for compressed work schedules in an effort to create a hybrid work schedule program providing unauthorized benefits for employees or agencies. See Comptroller General report B-179810, December 4, 1979, and 50 FLRA No. 28, February 23, 1995. However, it should be noted that some forms of flexible work schedules (e.g., maxiflex) allow work to be compressed in fewer than 10 workdays in a biweekly pay period.

Authority and Responsibilities

a. Section 6133 of title 5, United States Code, grants the Office of Personnel Management authority to--

(1) promulgate regulations necessary for the administration of AWS programs,

(2) provide educational material and technical assistance relating to AWS programs, and

(3) conduct periodic reviews of AWS programs established by agencies.

b. It is the agencies' responsibility to determine whether to establish AWS programs; how to comply with the spirit of the President's memoranda of July 11, 1994, and June 21, 1996, on providing family-friendly work arrangements in the executive branch; negotiate with exclusive representatives when appropriate; administer the programs efficiently; and ensure that the AWS programs do not cause an adverse agency impact. (See section 7c, below.)

c. Agencies wishing to establish flexible or compressed work schedules permitted under 5 U.S.C. 6122 and/or 5 U.S.C. 6127 do not need OPM approval.


Under subchapter II of chapter 61 of title 5, United States Code, AWS programs may apply to employees of any executive agency (excluding the U.S. Postal Service), any military department, the Government Printing Office, or the Library of Congress.


Nothing in the AWS program should be interpreted as diminishing the authority of an organization using nonstandard work schedules under 5 U.S.C. 6101 to continue to operate under those schedules with their applicable premium pay entitlements. (A "nonstandard work schedule" includes any schedule in which full-time employees work other than the standard schedule of 8 hours per day and 5 days per week in an administrative workweek. Such schedules include first 40-hour tours of duty, work schedules for employees receiving annual premium pay for regularly scheduled standby duty or administratively uncontrollable overtime, work schedules for employees receiving availability pay, and any schedule in which employees work more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week.)


a. AWS programs have the potential to enable managers and supervisors to meet their program goals while, at the same time, allowing employees to be more flexible in scheduling their personal activities. As employees gain greater control over their time, they can, for example, balance work and family responsibilities more easily, become involved in volunteer activities, and take advantage of educational opportunities. The employee benefits provided by AWS programs also are useful recruitment and retention tools.

b. The President's memorandum of July 11, 1994, "Expanding Family-Friendly Work Arrangements in the Executive Branch," directed the heads of all executive agencies to establish a program to encourage and support the expansion of flexible family-friendly work arrangements. The President's memorandum of June 21, 1996, "Implementing Federal Family Friendly Work Arrangements," directed the heads of all executive agencies to review their personnel practices and develop a plan of action to provide their employees flexible hours that will enable employees to schedule their work and meet the needs of their families.

c. An agency may determine the general policy, as well as guidelines, instructions, and procedures providing for the establishment of AWS programs in its headquarters and field activities.

d. An agency may establish any number of AWS programs.

e. The suspension of premium pay and scheduling provisions of title 5, United States Code, and the overtime pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended (FLSA), as specified in 5 U.S.C. 6123 and 6128, apply only to organizational units participating in an AWS program. All other provisions of title 5 and the FLSA remain in effect for nonparticipating organizations.

Procedures for Establishing Alternative Work Schedules

a. Bargaining unit employees may participate in an AWS program only under the terms provided in a negotiated agreement (5 U.S.C. 6130(a)(1) and (2)). Therefore, an agency wishing to establish such a program for these employees must negotiate the establishment and terms of the program with the exclusive representative of the bargaining unit.

b. In an unorganized unit, a majority of affected employees must vote to be included in a CWS program. (See 5 U.S.C. 6127(b).) Agencies may unilaterally install FWS programs in unorganized units. For FWS programs, there is no requirement for a vote of affected employees.

c. If the head of an agency determines that a proposed AWS schedule will have an adverse impact on the agency, the agency may not establish such a schedule (5 U.S.C. 6131(a)(1)). If the agency and the union representing bargaining unit employees reach impasse over this determination, the impasse must be presented to the Federal Service Impasses Panel for resolution (5 U.S.C. 6131(c)(2)(A)).

d. Adverse agency impact is defined as--

- a reduction of an agency's productivity,

- a diminished level of services furnished to the public, or

- an increase in the cost of agency operations (other than an administrative cost to process the establishment of an AWS program). (See 5 U.S.C. 6131(b).)

Procedures for Terminating Alternative Work Schedules

If the head of an agency finds that a particular AWS schedule has had an "adverse agency impact," the agency must promptly determine not to continue the schedule (5 U.S.C. 6131(a)(2)). If establishment of the AWS schedule was negotiated, the agency may reopen the agreement to seek its termination (5 U.S.C. 6131(c)(3)). If an impasse results, the dispute goes to the Federal Service Impasses Panel, which will determine within 60 days whether the agency's determination is supported by evidence. If it is, the Panel must act in favor of the agency. See 5 U.S.C. 6131(c)(3)(B) and (C). The AWS schedule may not be terminated until agreement is reached or the Panel acts. (See 5 U.S.C. 6106 and 6131(a)(3)(D).)

Special Procedures for Time Accounting

a. General Remarks

(1) The requirements for time accounting applicable to Federal civilian employees are found in part I of chapter 3 of Title 6 of the General Accounting Office (GAO) Policy and Procedures Manual for Guidance of Federal Agencies. Before establishing a time accounting system for use with an AWS program, agencies are encouraged to review GAO's guidance.

(2) Agencies wishing to participate in an AWS program must establish a time accounting method that provides the supervisor with "affirmative" or personal knowledge of each employee's entitlement to pay by showing the number of hours of duty, attendance, and the nature and length of absences. (See 5 CFR 610.404.)

(3) When a supervisor cannot approve from personal knowledge the entitlement to pay for an employee on an alternative work schedule, there are a number of time accounting options available that may be used to ensure adequate controls. Examples are provided in paragraph "c" below.

b. Timekeeping

No specific form of timekeeping is appropriate in all situations. Rather, each organization should examine its own particular needs and make its selection based upon its needs. GAO no longer prescribes methods for accounting for time.

c. Examples of Possible Time Accounting Methods

(1) Work Report System. A portion of the Time and Attendance Report form used in many organizations may be set aside to record arrival and departure times, as well as any other exceptions to the normal workday.

(2) Sign-in/sign-out sheets. Each employee is required to enter his or her name, time of arrival and departure, and other exceptions to the normal workday.

(3) Automatic Time Recording Equipment. These systems may be used for flexible work schedule programs in Washington, DC, and elsewhere. (See 5 U.S.C. 6125.)

(4) Work output assessment. For employees permitted to telecommute, supervisors determine the reasonableness of the work output for the time spent and also make occasional telephone calls or visits during the employee's scheduled work time.

Changes in Payroll Procedures and Personnel Policies

The introduction of an AWS program may necessitate changes in payroll procedures, including computer programs. For example, schedules that allow for the use of credit hours may require changes in time and attendance cards or additional records to account for each employee's credit hours. Agencies may permit the accumulation and use of credit hours or overtime hours in fractions of an hour.

Seasonal Schedules

If they so desire, agencies may implement AWS programs only for certain periods or seasons of the year. Generally, there are two reasons for such seasonal implementation:

a. The agency's mission and functions are seasonal in nature; or

b. The agency determines that, though an AWS program for the entire year would not be feasible, it would be possible from the perspective of the agency's mission, and of substantial benefit to its employees, to implement such a schedule for a certain period(s) of the year.

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