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November 20 2017

New York Wants to Dictate When You Work

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Black Friday kicks off the official start of the holiday shopping season. Store managers are likely busy scheduling staff for early openings and late closings beginning on Thanksgiving Day. That’s good for shoppers and great for workers looking to make extra cash during the holidays

Unfortunately, lawmakers and advocates are pushing for reforms that could actually remove flexibility in scheduling. Expanded shopping hours call for employers to schedule employees based on demand, in some states that flexibility is about to disappear.

Predictive scheduling is the next target of labor or workforce regulations that replace flexibility and freedom to meet individual needs for one-size-fits all policies that overlook unique circumstances.

New York is set to implement new proposed rules which would make sweeping changes to how much notice to work employers in retail and fast food must provide to their employees. The proposed regulations would limit employers’ ability to schedule employees for on-call shifts and require that they pay employees for cancelled shifts and newly issued shifts.

New York is only the second state in the country to implement state-wide predictive scheduling rules. Oregon was the first state to pass rules on predictive scheduling that apply to even more industries, but they will go into effect in 2018.

Employers are concerned that this will be an added cost on top of other costly regulations:

"It will drive employers with part-time and/or lower-income employees to significantly modify their scheduling practices, at a time when they are also absorbing the costs of an increased minimum wage and dealing with the complexity of the new paid family leave act," [Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State] said. 

Groups like the National Women’s Law Center are painting the unpredictability of schedules for workers in retail, hospitality, dining as a hardship because it’s difficult to plan their lives. For example, getting a few days (or hours) notice before having to work creates challenges in making child care arrangements, attending doctor’s visits, going to school or holding down another job.

They go as far as to suggest it can “lead to negative health outcomes if women can’t find time to take their kids or themselves to the doctor — and the stress unstable work schedules create for families can undermine children’s well-being.”

Difficult? Yes. Lead to negative health outcomes? That’s a stretch.  

Flexible scheduling, also called “just-in-time scheduling,” is an efficient tool that employers use to respond to last-minute scheduling changes such as a sick employee calling out. However, it does create hardships as noted above, but legislation eliminating it could backfire as employers have another reason to replace workers entirely with automation.

Even if employers don’t bring in the robots, they may cut workers’ hours or require stricter adherence to defined schedulse – making it harder for employees to request last-minute changes. And some workers actually want flexible schedules like models and actresses or retirees.

As my colleague Carrie Lukas explains in a policy focus on flexible scheduling, as many as 25 million people (17 percent of the American workforce) have irregular work schedules. The effects of laws like these could hurt the workers they intend to help:

Employers will also change the mix of workers, seeking to hire fewer, more highly skilled employees in the place of part-time positions. Having fewer workers, and more full-time workers rather than part-time workers, reduces the risks associated with rescheduling. That can be good news for the few full-time workers, but bad news for those who prefer a part-time schedule while they go to school, spend time caring for family, or who are newly entering the workforce.

Ideas that sound too good to be true, probably are.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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