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What Is a Split Shift (and How Does It Work)?

Split ShiftSplit Shift
min read
August 21, 2023

In today's modern, round-the-clock world, businesses often need to be available to customers well beyond traditional office hours. Depending on what industry you’re in, you and your team might have a standard 9 to 5 work schedule. However, this isn't always the case. Sectors like hospitality, public transport, food service, medical facilities, and even customer support centers need to operate continuously, often at different hours of the day and night.

But the real question is: How can businesses ensure round-the-clock service without overburdening their employees? After all, it is not feasible, or fair, to expect employees to work around the clock. Research has shown that long working hours can have a significant negative impact on employees' physical and mental health. So how do businesses maintain optimum staffing levels to serve customers while also prioritizing the well-being of their team?

The answer may be simpler than you think, and it's something you might not have heard of: the split shift.

In this article, we will unpack the concept of split shifts, discuss how they work, and provide useful tips and tricks to determine if adopting a split shift schedule is the right move for your business. Better yet, we’ll also cover various state-specific considerations to ensure your practices are in line with the law. Let’s dive in.

What Is a Split Shift Schedule?

A split shift is a type of schedule where your employee’s hours are broken up into two or more parts with some unpaid free time squeezed in between. It's all finished in the same workday, but how the hours are split up and how long the break is are all up to you.

Now, you might be thinking, "Don't we already do that with lunch breaks?" Well, not quite. That standard hour lunch break in the middle of a shift doesn't really count. It's just a lunch break, not a break break.

For it to be a legit split shift, according to split shift rules, the time between work chunks has to be at least two hours or more. And it can't just be a meal break that a team member is entitled to under employment laws. It's got to be free time, separate from any meal breaks your team gets. This is what separates a split shift from your everyday work schedule. It's all about how you slice and dice the workday while keeping within the rules.

Do Employees Still Work a Full Day?

Absolutely, split shift employees do still work a full day. A split shift doesn't shorten the total work hours; instead, it rearranges them into distinct blocks. The total time worked on a split shift still adds up to a regular workday, whether that's eight hours, ten hours, or any other full-time equivalent. The main difference is that these hours are spread out, with a long break in between, rather than being all in one go.

One key point to remember here is the concept of a "split shift allowance." In some jurisdictions, labor laws mandate that employers provide an extra wage—a split shift allowance—to workers who complete a split shift. This is because split shifts can be less convenient for employees, impacting their personal time or even incurring additional commuting costs. The split shift allowance is designed to offset these potential inconveniences, making the split shift arrangement more attractive and fair to employees.

Who Uses this Schedule?

Various industries and businesses can benefit from the flexibility that split shift schedules offer, especially those needing round-the-clock availability, peak period coverage, or flexibility. Hospitality, healthcare, public transport, and customer service sectors are prime examples where split shifts are often utilized.

What are the Pros and Cons?

One of the key pros of split shifts is their adaptability, allowing businesses to match staff levels to customer demand. For instance, a restaurant may require more staff during lunch and dinner rushes, and fewer in between. Split shifts can help optimize staffing levels, making business operations more cost-effective and employee schedules more flexible. And that’s a crucial factor for many job seekers. Sixty-four percent were more likely to consider a role if the hours were flexible.

The cons include potential disruptions to employees' personal lives, as split shifts can interfere with typical family or leisure activities. Also, split shifts could lead to additional commuting costs for employees since they may have to travel between work and home more often in a day.

Regardless, with a well-structured split shift system and possibly a split shift allowance, these issues can be mitigated. It's all about balancing the split shift pros and cons to ensure both operational efficiency and employee satisfaction.

How Does a Split Shift Work?

Let’s look at an example of this type of schedule in action. Imagine that you’re running a restaurant that opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m., but the hours between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. are fairly quiet. Since both lunch and dinner can get busy, you want your most experienced employees to work during these hours. 


A split shift would allow you to schedule your best waitstaff from 11 a.m. to 1p.m., then again from 5 p.m. until closing, with a legally-required meal period somewhere during their actual working hours. Your less experienced employees can cover the four-hour shift in the afternoon when there are fewer customers.


With this type of employee scheduling, your key staff are still working an eight-hour day, but they’re getting four hours off in the middle before they come back in for the dinner shift. That time is theirs to do what they want and is unpaid, non-working time. 

Do Split Shifts Impact How Much Employees Get Paid?

Federal laws require that you pay your employees at least a fixed minimum wage—either the one set at the national level or the state minimum wage (or even local), whichever one is higher. 


If you’re running a business that operates during undesirable hours, paying your weekend or night shift workers above the minimum wage rate is a fairly common practice in order to make those hours more appealing. This is known as a shift differential.


But, while it might be common, that pay bump isn't required. According to the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employers don't have to pay a shift differential for split shifts. 

State Laws May Require You to Pay More for Split Shifts

It's important to check your state, though. In some states (California is one of them!), you are required to pay a split shift premium. That means employees who work these shifts get a little extra money—which we'll break down in a minute. 


Team members are not entitled to these premiums if they live on-site, like in an apartment above the restaurant or cafe they work in or if they volunteer to work an extra shift during the same workday.

California Split Shift Laws

The split shift premium in California, dictated by the California split shift laws, requires employers to pay an extra hour of pay at the state or local minimum wage rate (whichever is higher). This premium is added to the employee's standard wage for each split shift worked.

You might think you can simply add an extra hour of minimum wage to the shift, but it's not that straightforward. You do need to add it on, but then you have to compare that total with what they'd earn at their regular rate.

If their total pay with that extra hour is more than what you're paying them anyway, you're responsible for the difference. This may be less than the cost of an additional hour, so it's crucial to ensure the calculations are accurate to comply with California split shift laws.


The formula looks like this for a single split shift:


Total Pay at Minimum Wage + One Extra Hour at Minimum Wage - Total Pay at Regular Hourly Rate = Split Shift Premium


Let’s go over this step by step and look at an example:



Let’s take a look at this in practice. An employee works in your San Francisco restaurant from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., then again from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The local minimum wage is $16.99 per hour, but your team member is an experienced server, so you pay them $18 per hour.


This employee is owed $144 at their standard hourly wage for their eight-hour shift: 


$18 x 8 = $144


San Francisco’s minimum wage is higher than California’s state minimum wage, so you'll need to calculate against it. At minimum wage, the employee should make $152.91 for their workday: 


$16.99 x 8 = $135.92 required minimum pay


But you’ll need to add an extra hour to account for that split shift.


$135.92 + $16.99 (one extra hour of minimum wage) = $152.91

That's the required minimum with the split shift premium.


Now we find the differential:


$152.91 - $144 = $8.91 additional pay


You owe the employee an extra premium of $8.91 on their paystub. But why do all this math yourself? Payroll software like Hourly can automatically calculate split shift pay for your employees, so you never have to crunch the numbers yourself.

Do Any Other States Have their Own Split Shift Rules?

Don't live in California? Here are some split shift rules from other states you might want to be aware of:

District of Columbia

Like in California, Washington DC employees are entitled to an additional hour of pay at minimum wage if they work a split shift. The break between their shifts needs to be longer than one hour and employees who live on-site are exempt.


There aren’t any specific split shift laws in Illinois. But employers should be aware that the Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance means that employers can’t schedule staff to work if they have not had a 10-hour or longer break since their last shift.

New York

For nonexempt, hourly employees in the service industry, there are some laws to be aware of for split shift pay in New York. 

If an employee's work schedule is divided into two or more segments with a gap of more than one hour, it is considered a split shift. Employees who work split shift hours in New York are entitled to one extra hour of pay at the minimum wage rate, on top of their regular wages for that day.

If the start and end of an employee’s workday are more than 10 hours apart, they are entitled to spread of hours pay. An extra hour at New York’s minimum wage is owed in this case. 

Employers can offset this premium against the amount they pay above the minimum wage. For example, if an employee's hourly rate is more than the minimum wage, the amount over the minimum wage can be used to offset the split shift premium.


Oregon also requires that employees have a minimum 10-hour break between their shifts. If these team members need to report to work earlier than this, they must be paid time and a half for that next shift.

What Are the Benefits of Split Shifts?

Scheduling split shifts may require a little more work (and math!) on your end. But, there are a few advantages that make it well worth considering.


How Do You Schedule a Split Shift?

When you’re thinking about employee scheduling, it’s important to have a good understanding of your business’s peak traffic hours to make sure that you have the right number of staff on duty to help your customers.


But it’s also helpful to know a little about your team members individually. Your team members with young children may benefit from having a break around 2 or 3 p.m. to be able to get their children from school. 


On the other hand, for employees with long commute times, a split shift may be more of a hindrance than a help. Going back and forth from home to work four times in one day could take up hours of their time.


Before making any big shift changes, talk to your employees to make sure that the new plans work for them.


Hourly can make managing schedules and payroll even easier. Workers can easily track their hours with the click of a button and you can get insights into exactly how much you’re spending on labor in real-time. 

Are There Any Legal Requirements for Split Shift Scheduling?

Split shifts must always be planned ahead of time. If an employee comes to you asking for an extra hour for lunch that day, that can’t be considered a split shift. 


The same is true if they need to leave early for a personal emergency and offer to work a second shift or an additional hour later in the week. 


It’s up to you as the manager to decide whether or not that’s allowed, but you can’t put that time down as a split shift. Instead, you’ll pay the employee their standard pay rate for any time that they’re clocked in.

Rethink Your Employee's Workdays

Running a business already comes with plenty of logistics. Adding in split shifts may feel like another headache to deal with, but a little extra work upfront can save you time and money.


There could be some unexpected benefits too. The funds you save from giving your employees a break in the middle of their work could be enough to hire an extra person or two for the busier shifts later in the day. 


More people to take on the work means less pressure on your existing team members, which usually results in happier employees. And when your employees are happy, they're less likely to jump ship to another business. So, what do you have to lose?

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