Millions of people—mostly women—work in retail, food service, hospitality, and other industries in which jobs often pay low wages and lack benefits. In many of these jobs, employees increasingly face “just-in-time” scheduling practices, including being given very little notice of their work schedules, being sent home early when work is slow without being paid for their scheduled shifts, and being assigned to “on-call” shifts that require them to call their employer or wait to be called by their employer to find out whether they will be required to report to work. Many employees have very little ability to make adjustments to their work schedules without penalty. And many people who work part time are working fewer hours than they want and need to support their families.

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 was exacerbated as millions of workers risked 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. It can be particularly hard for parents with difficult work schedules to afford and access the high-quality child care that would provide needed stability for their children and help prepare them for school. And research shows that the stress caused by inadequate income and constantly fluctuating work hours is not only bad for workers, but also can undermine their children’s well-being. Yet such practices are common in large sectors of our economy.

Fortunately, there is growing movement to improve workplace scheduling practices so that working people and their families can better plan their lives. This report provides an overview of the public policy solutions that have been adopted at the state and local levels to promote fair work schedules in the United States.