Do dentists support a 32-hour workweek?

While a decrease in the standard workweek could have a positive impact on employee morale and retention, some dentists say it could bring on costly challenges for dental practices. 

House Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., reintroduced the Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act March 1. If passed, the bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act by reducing the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours for non-exempt employees.

Under the bill, employers would be required to pay overtime compensation to non-exempt employees whose workweek exceeds 32 hours. Those who would be most impacted by the change include non-exempt hourly employees, but some salaried workers would also be affected.

Here, five dentists shared with Becker's their thoughts on the bill and how it could impact the dental industry.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Benjamin Joy, DDS. Joy Dental Pines (Pembroke Pines, Fla.): None of the stated objectives of the 32-hour workweek would be achieved by this legislation. 

Employers would simply employ more part-time employees, convert them to salaried, exempt employees, or limit business hours to 32-hour workweeks.

Inevitably, this legislation would increase the cost of labor. This increased cost will cause the least efficient businesses to close. This will increase unemployment among the hourly employees. 

This decreased employment will reduce the amount of production. Because our products will be fewer in supply, they will increase in price. This increases the cost of living for everyone but affects the unemployed hourly employees the most, as they are least able to absorb increased prices. 

Lastly, our decreased production will allow our foreign competitors to increase their production, especially motivated by the increased prices. Please refer to what happened to manufacturing in the U.S. for instance, ever since the original FLSA was passed. 

If 32-hour workweeks are good for business and production, businesses will adopt them without any government coercion. If Congress wants to help overworked hourly employees, I suggest they repeal the Fair Labor and Standards Act altogether and allow the very unfair free market standards to naturally optimize the labor markets, productivity and prices through the laws of supply and demand. 

I suggest a review of "Economics in One Lesson" by Henry Hazlitt to learn how government sympathy can oftentimes be just as harmful as government hostility. 

[Two other consequences]:

1. Automation will accelerate 

2. Outsourcing will accelerate 

I have no objection to automation or outsourcing, but I'm not positive that's the intention of the legislation. 

Barry Lyon, DDS. Chief Dental Officer, Division of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry, at Dental Care Alliance (Sarasota, Fla.): A bill such as this will certainly have mixed reviews.

On the plus side, reducing the workweek will lower dental office operating costs by turning off utilities and heating and air conditioning. It will also provide a perk for office employees by improving their work-life balance and a perk for management by having happier employees. Worker productivity is likely to increase as it is shown by many studies that productivity decreases as working hours increase. Employee burnout should decrease and employee happiness and retention should increase.

However, there's also a downside to a shorter workweek. Working fewer days means a restructuring of the requirements for PTO and vacations. If a shorter workweek means fewer hours worked, an employee reduction in pay will surely be met with resistance. If a dental office is closed three days each week, then scheduling deliveries from vendors or labs would be affected. Plus, that first day back probably means quite a bit of catching up by the office employees, and that could affect efficiency in completing the required daily tasks.

Dental offices thrive by meeting patient needs. A shorter workweek means fewer patient visits and less availability for emergencies. Unless significant adjustments can be made, a shorter workweek does not do dental offices any favors.

William Hunt, DDS. (Forest City, N.C.): For those of us who work a four-day week, there would be little, if any, change. However, for offices working five and six days or extended hours, it could present problems. An increase in pay for those working overtime could negatively impact the dentist's bottom line. It could mean hiring new staff for those times when the pool of potential employees is already thin. Also, if the dentist is an employee of a corporation, even a solo incorporated practice, would those rules apply to them? Who would enforce the regulations?   What would a situation of an after-hours visit entail? I can imagine a decrease in office hours that can make it difficult for patients to access dental services. The handling of more staff can add more work to the load that we already must contend with. On the other side, I think employee morale would improve in many cases.   

Larry Stewart, DDS. Texas Oral Surgery Group (Plano): A 32 hour workweek … sounds wonderful at first blush. The bill proposes amending the Fair Labor Standards Act to shorten the standard workweek by eight hours for non-exempt employees. What this would mean for most dentists is: either your employees work no more than 32 hours, or you pay overtime. While certain industries can effectively staff around reduced workweek hours by utilizing rotating "teams" approaches, this may prove cumbersome and practically impossible, especially in the dental profession where we already face significant staffing shortages. Rep. Mark Takano, who reintroduced this bill after its 2021 failure, says that it would bring about "a significant change which will increase the happiness of humankind." This issue isn't one that responds well to a "one-size-fits-all," top-down, government-mandated solution. I don't know about other doctors' staff, but I believe that my staff, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, might not find their "happiness increased" if they are cut eight hours of work a week. That's essentially losing a week's worth of pay every month!

Owen Waldman, DMD. Waldman Dental Group (Scottsdale, Ariz.): I think the bill is ridiculous! If a business wants to hire someone for 32 hours/week, that's fine and should be between employer and employee, but in no way should there be overtime. 

As usual, it's a bill brought up by a politician who has never held a real job, ran an actual business and who has no clue how the real world works. 

The effect on dentistry will be the same for all small businesses: less workers wanting to put in the time without getting overtime, so it will result in businesses having to stagger hours and/or possibly shorten them to avoid paying overtime every week; and of course, it will result in less income and benefits for employees. This is what happens when the people who make the laws have zero clue how business works in the real world.

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