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What is fair workweek?

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Over the past few years, fair workweek initiatives have been gaining momentum across the US. In California, Illinois, Oregon, New York, and elsewhere, legislators have been called to pass laws that protect workers’ rights to a “fair workweek.” Fair workweek laws differ by city and state, but in general, they aim to make work more predictable, and thus less stressful, for hourly employees. 

Grocery and restaurant chains are among the businesses most impacted by fair workweek laws. If found non-compliant, these businesses can face fines totaling millions of dollars. But there are reasons for smaller businesses to pay attention, too. The fair workweek trend isn’t over, and there’s growing evidence to suggest that fair workweek policies can actually save businesses money (if you implement the tools and processes to ensure you aren’t on the hook for penalties).

Below, we explain what fair workweek is, how it got started, and what it means for the future of business in retail and food service.

What does “fair workweek” mean?

“Fair workweek” refers to the movement, occurring in the US right now, to promote and protect workers’ rights to predictable work schedules. It marks a growing awareness of the negative effects that unpredictable schedules can have on the personal lives, health, and finances of hourly and part-time workers.

Those of us who’ve worked in retail or hospitality have experience working back-to-back closing and opening (“clopen”) shifts or being unable to take meal breaks. That’s been the reality in most shift-work jobs for as long as any of us can remember.

While this feels normal to folks who have lived the retail life, it’s not something the latest generation of shift-work employees are willing to accept. Newer retail workers will not abide the inconveniences of having to drop familial or school responsibilities because of a last-minute shift, or paying for an hour long bus ride to work, only to be sent home because business is slow and they’re no longer needed. They’re demanding input in their work schedules at a level that shift-work employees have never had before.

Fair workweek concepts aren’t new to employers of shift-work teams. Research has long shown that unpredictable scheduling (e.g. “on call scheduling” or “just-in-time scheduling”) is extremely stressful for workers and their families. Proactive retail managers have always understood this, and engaged teams with high productivity rates are often the hallmark of a well-managed schedule. In fact, great scheduling policies have been a huge employee retention factor for employers of choice in the retail industry at large – acting as a differentiator between restaurants or grocery stores recruiting from the same talent pool.

Fair workweek for employers vs. employees

For employees, a fair workweek might mean having a predictable work schedule, enough work to make a livable paycheck, adequate meal and rest breaks, and having a say in when and how long they work. 

For employers, fair workweek regulations often mean more paperwork (expensive administrative duties), a loss of a competitive differentiator in recruiting, expensive penalties when things don’t go according to plan, and confused employees who don’t understand the regulations.

When and why did fair workweek start?

In 2014, San Francisco became the first city in the US to penalize large businesses for imposing unpredictable schedules and last-minute changes on hourly workers. The city passed two ordinances, which among other things required employers to post schedules in advance, compensate employees for schedule changes, give preference to existing workers, and provide “good faith” estimates to new hires. Other localities followed suit, and within a few years, many major retailers had stopped on-call scheduling altogether.

Today, more and more businesses are moving toward predictive scheduling in order to stay ahead of the rising trend. No one wants to get hit with a multi-million dollar fine for non-compliance.

Unpredictable schedules aren’t good for employees or employers

The fair workweek movement came about due to increasing evidence that unpredictable schedules are harmful to employees. It’s not that hard to understand why an unstable schedule might be stressful to parents with small kids or detrimental to students in college. But there’s good reason to think that unpredictable schedules aren’t that great for businesses, either. 

Think about it: an optimal schedule means having the right people in the right place at the right time. But with “just-in-time” scheduling, schedules aren’t necessarily staffed that way. What you get is harried workers who are stressed out, unengaged, and unprepared. They’re more likely to miss shifts and have lower productivity when they do make it to work. On-call scheduling might seem more flexible, but in reality it probably costs the business more money than it saves.

Tip: The best way to staff the right people at the right time is to build schedules in advance based on forecasted sales volumes and other key metrics.

What are fair workweek laws?

Fair workweek laws are aimed at making work schedules more predictable and less stressful for employees. Depending on where you are, you might also hear these laws referred to as predictive scheduling laws, fair workweek ordinance, or fair scheduling legislation. Other terms for predictive scheduling include “advanced scheduling” and “secure scheduling.”

Laws very by state and locality, but in general, fair workweek laws require employers to:

  • Share schedules with employees 1-2+ weeks in advance
  • Give employees adequate meal and rest breaks
  • Pay premiums to employees who consent to work “clopens”
  • Pay employees for changes made to their posted schedules (“predictability pay”)
  • Allow employees to make scheduling requests without fear of termination or reduction in hours
  • Allow existing employees to pick up shifts before hiring new ones to fill those shifts (“preferential scheduling”)
  • Provide “good faith” estimates of work to new hires, so they know what kind of paycheck they can expect

While these requirements can seem like a burden to employers, there are benefits too. For example, employees with predictable schedules tend to be healthier, more productive, and better performing than those without. They also tend to be happier, which is important for employee retention. On the other hand, low employee satisfaction is often a major cause of high employee turnover, which employers don’t want.

Fair workweek laws: Examples

Fair workweek laws and predictive scheduling are being adopted all over the country. Here are some examples of well-known laws that have paved the way:

Oregon Predictive Scheduling Laws

Businesses in the state of Oregon with 500+ workers worldwide must:

  • Post schedules at least 2 weeks in advance
  • Compensate employees for changes to the schedule
  • Accept employee input on schedules
  • Provide “good faith” work estimates to new hires
  • Avoid scheduling “clopens” or otherwise pay premiums (if scheduled, employees have the right to refuse)

Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance

Chicago businesses with 100+ employees worldwide (250+ employees and 30+ locations for restaurants) must:

  • Post schedules at least 10 days in advance
  • Compensate employees for changes to the schedules
  • Avoid scheduling “clopens” or otherwise pay premiums (if scheduled, employees have the right to refuse)

New York City Fair Workweek Law

New York City food service businesses that are part of a chain and are one of 30+ locations nationwide must:

  • Post schedules at least 2 weeks in advance
  • Compensate employees for changes to the schedule
  • Provide “good faith” work estimates to new hires
  • Preferentially schedule existing employees before hiring new
  • Avoid scheduling “clopens” or otherwise pay $100 premiums (employees must request or consent to “clopens”)

Fines for non-compliance

To discourage businesses from ignoring or breaking fair workweek laws, these laws tend to come with hefty fines for violations. Ranging from $200 to $2,500, these fines apply each time a law is violated. On top of that, businesses can be held accountable for backpay if found non-compliant. You know all those $20 or $75 premiums you failed to pay workers over the course of a year? Those can suddenly add up to the price of a Ferrari. Or several Ferraris. In cases of repeated violations, businesses can be sued for millions of dollars.

So, what do these new laws mean for you and the future of your business? We’ll cover that topic in our next post on the impacts of fair workweek. In that article, we’ll present 5 concrete things employers will need to do to maintain compliance.

In the meantime, if you don’t currently have a scheduling system that can post schedules in advance, track changes, and warn you before you schedule “clopens,” now’s a good time to take a look at TimeForge. 

TimeForge handles fair workweek regulations proactively, so you can stay compliant, minimize or eliminate penalties, and focus on running your business instead of keeping up with paperwork.

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