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

Split Shift
min read
September 26, 2022

Depending on what industry you’re in, you and your team might have a standard 9-to-5 work schedule. Or…they might not. Hospitality, public transport, food service, medical facilities and even customer support centers all operate at varying hours of the day and night.


Here's the problem: Your employees can’t work around the clock. In fact, research has shown that long working hours have a significant negative impact on people’s physical and mental health. So how do you make sure that you have the right staffing levels to serve your customers while still caring for the well-being of your team? Enter: split shift.


Never heard of this type of work schedule before? We’re here to help you decide if breaking out your team’s workday into split shifts is right for your business, along with a few state-specific considerations to keep in mind.

What Is a Split Shift Schedule?

A split shift is a type of schedule where your employee’s work hours are broken out into two or more parts, with unpaid time off in between.


A split shift is always completed on the same workday, but the hours an employee works and the amount of time in between are up to you. You might be thinking that you already offer this with a standard hour lunch break in the middle of a shift. But these meal breaks don’t actually count. 


To be legally considered a split shift, the amount of time between each part of your employee’s working day must be two hours or longer and separate from any required meal periods that a team member is entitled to under employment laws

Do Employees Still Work a Full Day?

With split shifts, your employee can still work a typical full-time or eight-hour day. But instead of working all of those hours consecutively, they’re broken down into two or more chunks across a 24-hour period (don't worry, we'll give you an example in a bit). 

Who Uses this Schedule?

This type of schedule is most common in restaurants, hotels, and security, and generally works well for individuals who need more flexibility in their working day. And according to research by Gartner, that’s a crucial factor for job seekers. Sixty-four percent were more likely to consider a role if the hours were flexible.


Offering split shifts can be a good move for many businesses. College students can work around their class schedule. Or parents can plan childcare around another caregiver’s working hours. All while allowing your company to operate for longer hours with a more effective team.

How Do Split Shifts 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.

What Is Split Shift Pay in California?

In California, the split shift premium is an extra hour of pay at the state or local minimum wage rate (whichever is higher) and is added to their standard wage. This premium must be paid for each split shift worked.


Can you just add an extra hour of minimum wage to the shift? Not exactly. You’ll need to add it on, yes–but then you’ll need to check that total against what they’d get at their regular rate. 


If their total pay (with that extra hour) is more than what you’re paying them anyway, you’ll owe the difference. That may be less than paying for a whole hour, so you’ll want to be sure you’re doing the calculations correctly.


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, New York has some specific rules around split shift pay. 


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.


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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