Are scheduling mandates good or bad for store associates?

Photo: RetailWire
Jul 05, 2017
Tom Ryan

Following a similar initiative carried out in San Francisco, Seattle just passed a law mandating employers to provide greater clarity into worker schedules and additional pay for last-minute changes.

The requirements under “Secure Scheduling Ordinance,” which became effective Saturday, include the following stipulations:

  • Schedules must be posted 14 days in advance.
  • Employers must provide in writing an estimate of what hours employees can expect at the time of their hiring.
  • Employees must have at least 10 hours off between shifts, or be paid time and a half.
  • Before a schedule is posted, schedule requests related to a major life event (employee’s transportation, housing, other jobs, education, caregiving, and self-care for serious health condition) must be granted.
  • Before hiring new employees, employers must post a notice of available hours for three days and offer the job to current employees.
  • After the schedule is posted, employees are paid one additional hour when an employer adds hours. When subtracted, employees are paid for half of the hours not worked.

The law applies to retail and quick-service food establishments with more than 500 employees worldwide and to restaurants with 500-plus employees and 40 or more locations.

A number of articles over the last few years have detailed the pressures unpredictable schedules place on workers. With many part-time jobs now filled by adults, employees struggle to manage childcare, balance shifts between two jobs, find transportation and juggle work and classes. Frequent complaints include getting notice of work schedules only one day in advance and receiving far fewer hours than promised. Scheduling software was seen as part of the problem.

Every mandate has some exceptions. The “premium pay” mandate, for example, doesn’t apply when associates swap shifts or “mass communications” such as text or e-mail are used to ask workers if they can fill an unexpectedly open shift.

Seattle Times article detailed how businesses are being challenged to deal with the new law’s extensive documentation requirements, reduced flexibility around hiring part-timers, and training often-young managers on how to meet the new guidelines. Critics of such laws also argue they reduce flexibility and hours for workers.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:  Do you see Seattle’s “Secure Scheduling Ordinance” and similar laws as sensible requirements or overly-burdensome to retailers? Will they help resolve worker complaints? Where do you see store managers facing the biggest challenges meeting such protocols?

"The vast majority [of retailers] are great places to work. Not all, so regulations are needed. Just not the type that Seattle has put in place."
"If people are looking at this legislation to help the retail industry, I don’t believe it will do that."
"The intent of the ordinance is reasonable since some front-line workers are being subjected to scheduling practices that are unfair and insensitive."

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13 Comments on "Are scheduling mandates good or bad for store associates?"

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Mark Ryski

Staff scheduling is and remains challenging for many retailers and Seattle’s scheduling ordinance will make it even more challenging and costly. The intent of the ordinance is reasonable since some front-line workers are being subjected to scheduling practices that are unfair and insensitive. However these regulations will be difficult to manage and enforce. Given the unpredictability of demand retailers face retailers need flexibility in creating schedules and making adjustments, but retailers also need to give more consideration to the impact their policies have on employees. More regulation is not the answer.

Steve Montgomery

I agree with you on all points. Some retailers’ scheduling practices take advantage of the employees. On the other hand, retailers have found the forecasting is, at best, an inexact science. I’m not sure of what the answer is but I know it is not more regulation.

Kevin Graff

I’m all for advancements in improving the work experience for retail employees. For too long, retailers earned a bit of a black eye for some dubious employment practices. However, these new rules go way too far! It looks like a bunch of lawmakers who have never actually run a retail business got carried away with good intentions but poor information.

Retailers have come a long way in improving how they treat their employees over the past few years. The vast majority are great places to work. Not all, so regulations are needed. Just not the type that Seattle has put in place.

Al McClain

If we want retailing to be a career path of choice for desirable workers, as I’ve heard over and over again that we do, we have to be able to provide associates with work schedules at least 14 days ahead, and 30 days ahead would be even better. Most office workers have very predictable schedules, whereas retail employees have rotating schedules, evening and weekend hours, and are often needed to work holidays. With AI, machine-learning, and workforce management systems, the retailing industry can’t keep saying the basics are a burden, if it wants to attract good workers.

Ben Zifkin
6 months 17 days ago
Having run a Workforce Management firm in a previous life, I can assure you that there is a big problem in scheduling for retail employees. Technology has come a long way but still has been unable to solve this issue. I don’t believe that six bullet points of legislation will be more effective in doing so. We are living in a time in which retailers have to compete on convenience or experience. Both of these are heavily reliant on having excellent people. I wish, after many years of working in retail, the feeling would be that treating your employees well (i.e., giving them very advanced schedules, not having a habit of last minute changes) would create a better culture, would allow retailers to attract better staff and would allow them to service the customer better. Better workforces lead to better sales. I am not sure legislating these points is the best way to drive this point home. If people are looking at this legislation to help the retail industry, I don’t believe it will do… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson

I don’t agree with these added regulations, especially at the intended targeted retailers. Guess what, small retailers have scheduling issues that are just as volatile as the large ones. However, I’d take an approach along the lines of what Al McClain touched on in his response. AI is actually a potentially strong weapon of choice for this challenge. The more internal data (characteristics like work schedule history, time off requests, etc.) and external data (including, weather patterns, local sporting events, social chatter, etc.) that is captured by the labor scheduling tools, the better the forecasting becomes. This is very doable today and should not be dismissed any longer.

Mohamed Amer

Staff scheduling is challenging and is actually more extreme for smaller retailers than larger ones. We will not eliminate the problem (uncertainty and the unexpected will never go away), but we can make the burden — on both retailer and staff — much more tolerable through infusion of intelligent; predictive applications combined with sound store policies.

Regulations help shine a spotlight on societal issues. They don’t necessarily solve them — and may even have unintended consequences, but regulations do nudge the industry into assigning such issues a higher business priority.

Ryan Mathews

It’s all about who’s ox is being gored. From a retailer’s perspective, these kinds of regulations are excessive, burdensome and make life generally unpleasant. From an employee point of view, they are the answer to a prayer.

Will they resolve complaints? Some, but clearly not all. As far as store managers go, it will force them to focus on the job they should be doing in the first place. An hour before a shift is not the time to realize you need more labor. I know it will be bumpy — scheduling is more art than science and a rainy day can ruin the best of plans — but good retail help is hard to find and scheduling security is a good first step toward ensuring that your best employees stay happy.

Craig Sundstrom

Whatever the merits — or not — of the actual legislation, it follows what I see as a growing trend of cities, counties and other local governments legislating in what was traditionally an area for the Federal or state government(s). Generally I think this is ill-conceived, as cities usually lack the legal resources to properly vet ideas and, let’s face it, they’re far more likely to be swayed by small groups of extremists.

Michael Rowan

A predictable schedule is something that employees deserve, and some over-aggressive scheduling optimization may have violated. I do feel that the additional regulation will create compliance burdens and make doing business under this city ordinance more difficult for an industry already under strain.

Hopefully this ordinance doesn’t backfire on the citizenry in Seattle next time a store closing round occurs and a thousand miles away the decision is easier to shut down the Seattle store versus trying to establish new business processes to comply with yet another one-off legislative requirement.

Doug Garnett

The scary part of this issue is that it suggests there are enough retailers to warrant it — retailers who don’t value employees, employee morale, and honesty with their employees.

As HR departments have been made more “rigorous” somehow I think they’ve also forgotten that people are being managed — not automatons — that people respond best when respected.

It’s scary how quickly business has forgotten the brilliant writing of W. Edwards Deming. His 11th of 14 points for quality is: “Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.”

How can we return “pride of workmanship” to the retail floor? It’s absolutely possible, but not when employees cannot see their own future schedules.

Ricardo Belmar

I have to agree with Al McClain on this one – while we can debate if the new regulations go too far in trying to solve these issues, the reality is that we should be able to leverage the available technology, AI included, coupled with existing workforce management solutions to allow retailers to do a better job with labor scheduling. Issues like this can’t continue to be dismissed because it’s too much of a burden to solve. If added regulations are the push required to make this happen, then that may be necessary. This is just something that needs to be done to attract good, talented, people to the industry.

Harley Feldman

If by sensible you mean help the worker, probably so. The flexibility of workers’ hours will shift from the business to the employee; it will be much harder for the business to schedule hours appropriate for the business demand under these rules.

The enhanced requirements and documentation are like a tax on the business. This is a cost that must be absorbed as I suspect Seattle residents do not want to pay more for the services delivered in retail and quick-service food. Seattle should learn from its own study just completed about the $15 minimum wage where the additional costs to business affect the people at the bottom of the wage scale the most.

Another prediction is jobs will move outside of the city of Seattle. If a restaurant or retail establishment has a choice of opening in the city under this legislation or just outside the city without these rules, guess where they will go.

"The vast majority [of retailers] are great places to work. Not all, so regulations are needed. Just not the type that Seattle has put in place."
"If people are looking at this legislation to help the retail industry, I don’t believe it will do that."
"The intent of the ordinance is reasonable since some front-line workers are being subjected to scheduling practices that are unfair and insensitive."

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