Connecticut’s “Fair Work Week” Law Actually Threatens Workers’ Flexibility and Jobs

Predictive scheduling laws are nothing new – Chicago, New York City, Oregon state, San Francisco, and Seattle have all tried them. Connecticut is one step closer to joining them.

In general, predictive scheduling laws seek to penalize employers in industries that are characterized by wide fluctuations in demand, including hospitality and retail, for adjusting workers’ schedules within a certain period of time. In doing so, these penalties inflict costs of schedule changes that may reflect changes in demand, and research shows employers tend to reduce scheduling hours across the board to avoid penalties.

Connecticut’s proposal, SB 668, requires employers to post a weekly schedule no less than 14 days in advance of the first day of the scheduled week. If any changes are made, employers must pay affected workers half of any lost wages due to cancelled or reduced shifts. Additional penalties for changing dates and times of shifts without cancelling or reducing them also apply.

This law would apply to businesses in industries including hospitality, retail, and long-term care that have at least 500 employees globally. Individual franchise owners would be affected if part of a larger chain that fits this criteria.

Laws such as the one proposed for Connecticut are intended to create more predictable schedules for workers in targeted industries. But in practice, they place unnecessary burdens on both employers and their employees.

  • Restrictive scheduling laws raise the costs of unpredictable demand and foot traffic that is characteristic of the industries in question. For restaurants and retail shops, it’s nearly impossible for businesses to foretell staffing needs two weeks in advance. For example, foot traffic could drastically drop unexpectedly due to unforeseen weather. This new proposal would penalize employers for making adjustments less than two weeks in advance, and force employers to pay workers it may not need. As a result, employers are forced to make a cost-benefit calculation of scheduling workers with uncertainty about demand, incentivizing them to schedule fewer employees per shift to avoid any potential penalties.
  • Past evidence shows this risk calculation means workers ultimately lose. One survey of businesses affected by San Francisco’s similar scheduling mandate found that 20 percent had reduced the number of part-time hires they made, and a similar proportion reduced the number of employees they scheduled per shift. The Washington Post reported that San Francisco workers were dissatisfied by the new law, as it limited employers’ ability to offer last-minute extra shifts for fear of being penalized, even if workers wanted to pick up additional shifts. As a result, affected workers don’t support these measures. One server warned Washington state lawmakers against making Seattle’s scheduling restrictions state-wide: “Little by little, I’ve seen the profitability and flexibility of my job be chipped away in the name of progress and protecting workers. Restrictive scheduling removes the flexibility on which the hospitality industry is built.”
  • Connecticut’s proposal would fall on the heap of workplace restrictions employers and their employees must overcome to stay in business and earn a living. The state implemented a paid sick leave mandate in 2012 that resulted in unintended consequences for the employees it sought to help. A survey of affected businesses found as a result, 67 percent of contacted employers reduced employee benefits, reduced hours and/or wages, or laid off employees in anticipation of the new sick leave law taking effect. This law is still in effect and represents another mandate for employers to navigate as they make hiring and scheduling decisions. In addition, Connecticut is scheduled to continue raising its minimum wage annually, until it reaches $15 in 2023. With each scheduled increase, the cost of scheduling changes becomes more expensive, prompting employers to schedule fewer employees per shift.