The demographics and needs of the modern workforce have changed. In most families with children, all parents work, and mothers are increasingly the breadwinner for their families. More than one in five people in the U.S. provides unpaid care to a relative or friend who needs help with daily living, and more than half of these caregivers are in the workforce. Six in ten adults in the U.S live with a chronic medical condition that requires regular care. But workplaces have not caught up with these realities—indeed, many are moving in the wrong direction, providing work schedules with less stability, predictability, and employee input.
Millions of people work in vital but low-paying jobs in retail, food service, hospitality, cleaning, warehousing, and other industries in which employers use “just-in-time” scheduling practices. These practices, enabled by modern workforce management systems, frequently use algorithms to base workers’ schedules on perceived consumer demand and maximize flexibility for the employer at the expense of the employee. As a result, employees often have little notice of their work schedules, experience last-minute shift cancellations that deprive them of vital income, and are assigned to “on-call” shifts that leave them in limbo, not knowing whether they will be required to report to work.
Employer practices that produce unstable and unpredictable work hours are problems that pre-date the pandemic and economic recession caused by COVID-19. But the harm of these workplace practices has been exacerbated as millions of workers risk their own health and safety at jobs with few protections, volatile schedules, and inadequate hours in an effort to support themselves and their families. These scheduling practices make it extremely challenging for working people to meet their responsibilities outside of their jobs, including caregiving, pursuing higher education, managing a health condition or disability, or holding down a second job. Yet such practices are commonplace in large sectors of our economy—and they have continued throughout the pandemic. For example, national survey data show that close to two-thirds of hourly workers in retail and food service jobs receive their work schedules with less than two weeks’ advance notice, and about one-third receive their schedules with less than one week’s notice; more than one in five experience on-call shifts, and more than one in three have been required to work the closing shift one night and the opening shift the next morning (a “clopening” shift). Nearly two-thirds report that they want more stable and predictable work schedules.
Many of the low-paid, hourly, service sector jobs in which just-in-time scheduling practices are most concentrated are jobs that women are especially likely to hold. Women also still shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities in families —and have taken on still more during the pandemic—which can make unpredictable work hours particularly problematic. Black women, Latinas, and AAPI women are overrepresented in the low-paid workforce and women of color are also especially likely to be breadwinners for their families —and research confirms that women of color face an especially high risk of experiencing just-in-time scheduling practices.
Research confirms, too, that unstable and unpredictable work hours have detrimental impacts on working people, their families, and their communities. Volatile work schedules, and the volatile incomes that result, undercut workers’ efforts to budget for expenses and increase economic hardship, including hunger and housing insecurity. The stress that unstable and unpredictable work schedules produce can harm both workers and their families, undermining well-being for children and adults alike by disrupting routines and straining relationships. These same workplace conditions can make maintaining stable, high-quality child care nearly impossible. And the protocols put in place by schools and child care facilities to keep children and educators safe during the pandemic—including remote schooling and quarantine periods for students—have only exacerbated challenges for caregivers struggling with unpredictable work schedules that do not take their needs into account.
The Schedules That Work Act would address the problems caused by unfair scheduling practices and promote the equity and stability that working families need.
THE SCHEDULES THAT WORK ACT: PROVIDING STABILITY AND PREDICTABILTY FOR WORKING PEOPLE AND THEIR FAMILIES
The Schedules that Work Act will remedy many of the problems facing hourly workers in low-paid jobs by promoting employee input into work schedules and providing more predictability and stability.
Under the Act, employees across industries would be granted:
- A right to request a schedule that works for them. Employers must consider scheduling requests from all employees and provide a response. For an employee who needs a schedule change to fulfill caregiving responsibilities, work a second job, pursue education and workforce training, or address his or her own serious health condition, employers must grant the requested schedule change, unless there is a bona fide business reason not to do so. This provision ensures that employees can have input in their work schedules without fear of employer retaliation.
- A right to rest for an adequate period between shifts. The practice of “clopening”—requiring an employee to work the closing shift one night and the opening shift the next morning—is particularly disruptive to family routines, leaving workers without enough time to travel home and get sufficient rest before returning to work, which in turn can harm both their health and their productivity on the job. The Schedules That Work Act prohibits employers from requiring employees to work with less than 11 hours between shifts. If an employee agrees to work a clopening shift, the employer must pay time-and-a-half for the hours worked that are less than 11 hours after the employee’s prior shift.
For hourly workers in certain industries where abusive scheduling practices are especially well documented—retail, food service, hospitality, cleaning, and warehousing—the Schedules That Work Act provides additional protections. For nonexempt employees in these jobs, the bill requires:
- Advance notice of work schedules. When an employee is hired, an employer must provide an initial work schedule and an estimate of the number of hours the employee can expect to work each week. Thereafter, the employer must provide the employee with an updated work schedule two weeks in advance of the first shift on the schedule.
- “Predictability pay” for last-minute changes and cancelled shifts. If an employer changes an employee’s schedule within the two-week notice period, the employer must provide one additional hour of pay for each changed shift that doesn’t involve a loss of hours, or pay for half of hours not worked when the employer reduces or cancels a shift an employee is counting on (except when changes are due to employee requests, voluntary shift trades, or emergencies that suspend the employer’s operations).
- Split-shift pay. If an employee is required to work a shift with nonconsecutive hours with a break of more than one hour between work periods, the employer must pay a premium for that shift, equivalent to one hour of pay.
In addition, the Schedules That Work Act includes a provision authorizing the Department of Labor to evaluate the extent of unpredictable and unstable scheduling practices in other sectors and designate additional occupations to be covered by the predictability pay, split shift pay, and advance notice provisions. It also has a pay stub transparency provision, which requires an employer to specify in an employee’s pay stub the hours of additional pay owed the employee under the law.
Scheduling practices that fail to take working people’s needs into account result in higher rates of turnover and absenteeism, and lower employee engagement. In contrast, schedules that work for individuals and their families lead to more productive and committed employees and lower workforce turnover. More consistent hours and advance notice of schedules also make it easier for employees to secure stable child care and arrange transportation so that they can consistently be and stay at work— which can minimize the damaging stress that so many working parents face while creating stability, predictability, and cost savings for businesses. We cannot rebuild a better economy—one that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few—without ensuring that working people have the stability, predictability, and input in their work schedules that they need to meet their obligations on the job and in the rest of their lives. The Schedules That Work Act will help us move toward that goal and promote the health and well-being of America’s working families.
Together, the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights and the Schedules that Work Act will create federal protections to establish a fair workweek for people working in low-paid and hourly jobs, improving job quality and promoting equity in the modern economy.