New Evidence Suggests “Fair Workweek” Laws Aren’t Helping Workers

Predictive scheduling laws are nothing new – Chicago, New York City, Oregon state, San Francisco, and Seattle have all tried them. In 2023, California cities of Berkeley and Los Angeles will join them.

In general, predictive scheduling laws, often referred to as “fair workweek” 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.

But new research conducted in the last year indicates that although activists say these laws will incentivize full-time schedules and reduce scheduling uncertainty, these laws actually have adverse effects for employees.

By penalizing employers for schedule changes, these laws increase the cost of necessary changes that reflect fluctuations in demand out of the control of employers. For industries that operate and staff businesses based on foot traffic, things like sudden weather changes or big sporting events may heavily influence demand in retail or restaurant businesses at the drop of a hat. Instead, predictive scheduling laws forbid employers from making staffing and shift changes up to two weeks in advance of an employee’s scheduled shift. Penalties for violating these time constraints means employers could err on the side of scheduling fewer employees, for fear of having to adjust schedules later due to unforeseen circumstances and pay fines.

A few studies conducted in the past year provides evidence for this phenomenon:

  • In January 2022, University of Kentucky economist Aaron Yelowitz compared numbers of those working part-time involuntarily before and after predictive scheduling laws were enacted in San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, and Oregon. Yelowitz’s analysis concludes that instead of increasing the proportion of employees working full-time schedules, the laws “led to a shift toward part-time employment, primarily driven by workers who wanted to work full-time.” The proportion of part-time employees increased by 9.2% after scheduling laws were implemented, with nearly two-thirds of this shift coming from employees who reported their part-time hours were involuntary due to economic reasons, including “unfavorable business conditions” and “inability to find full-time work.”
  • In October 2022, researchers at the University of Illinois and University of Oregon conducted interviews with employees and managers in Oregon after the state implemented the first statewide predictive scheduling law in the nation. The authors conclude that workers and managers found “limited evidence” that the law had any impact on improving workers’ schedule predictability. For example, interviewed managers reported that “human factors” contributed to last-minute schedule changes that were unavoidable despite the new law – employees calling out sick, quitting at the last minute, or experiencing family emergencies. In another example, workers reported the law created more inflexibility in their schedules, as employers required even more advance notice for time off or shift change requests from employees, or prohibited shift trading between employees.

These new studies concur with a larger body of research that indicates this cost-benefit calculation leads many employers to schedule fewer employees – to avoid having too many staff in low-demand situations and facing penalties for rearranging work schedules. Instead of incentivizing full-time employment and schedule stability, employees who prefer or want full-time schedules see their shifts reduced and status pushed to part-time involuntarily. Past reports show businesses reduce hiring, limit extra shifts for employees that want them, and overall reduce flexibility and profitability of jobs in affected industries. One survey found in anticipation of scheduling legislation in 2020, 67% of restaurant operators reduced employee hours, wages, or benefits, or laid off employees entirely.

Currently, Oregon, Seattle, WA; New York City, NY; Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco, CA; Emeryville, CA; San Jose, CA; and Chicago, IL have “Fair Workweek” laws. As of January 1, dozens of states and cities are raising minimum wages this year, as other oppressive labor mandates such as the California FAST Recovery Act pile more regulations on staffing.

As more cities consider enacting fair workweek policies and activists push for statewide mandates, policymakers should consider the adverse effects on job opportunities and flexibility for affected employees.