The campaign to crack down on variable or on-call scheduling is emerging as a central issue for labor activists in the US today, second only to the minimum wage. Oregon is currently on track to become the first state to introduce regulations obligating most employers to provide predictable schedules to their hourly employees. A bill mandating advance notice of scheduling passed the state Senate last year and is returning to the House for a final vote, the Statesman Journal reported this week:
The bill’s provisions would apply to retail, food service and hospitality employers with at least 500 workers worldwide. That’s up from 100 statewide in the original bill. Individually owned franchises would not be covered. If the bill passes, beginning July 1, 2018, those employers would have to provide workers with an estimated schedule seven days before the first day of that week’s work. That’s down from 14 days in the original bill. The advance notice requirement would increase to 14 days on July 1, 2020. Enforcement would begin Jan. 1, 2019.
The bill also requires employers to provide extra pay to workers who have fewer than 10 hours off between shifts, allows workers to turn down extra shifts, and allows employers to maintain standby list of employees who are willing to be called into work on short notice. And it prohibits cities and counties from setting their own scheduling regulations.
Local “fair scheduling” or “secure scheduling” regulations began to appear in 2014, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors included such a provision in its “retail workers’ bill of rights.” Seattle adopted a secure scheduling policy for large retail and fast-food employers last September, which is set to come into force in July, and New York passed a predictable scheduling mandate at the end of May, to take effect six months after being signed into law. Similar scheduling bills have been introduced in the state legislatures of Connecticut, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.
Some organizations are sensing which way the wind is blowing, and now that several state attorneys general are investigating on-call scheduling, a number of large US retailers have agreed to abandon the practice, in which employees receive little or no advance notice of their hours for a given week. The companies that have done so include major retail brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, J.Crew, Urban Outfitters, Pier 1 Imports, Aeropostale, and PacSun.
Taken together, these developments are clearly part of a larger trend of rethinking the employer-employee social contract. In the case of Oregon, we see a government thinking it needs to step in, but if companies were getting this right in the first place, it wouldn’t have to.
We’ve known for a while that lifelong employment is no longer part of that contract, but we haven’t figured out or articulated to employees what the new contract looks like. In a world of constant disruptions, humans have an innate need for a certain level of stability in their lives so they can focus and be productive. And organizations need to give employees that stability, but not in the way they think. It’s less about guaranteeing employment per se, and more about making it explicitly clear how the organization will think through and deal with disruption in the workplace.
For example, in the new employee-employer contract, how can employees expect the organization to react to automation? It matters less what your approach is and more that the organization is willing to commit to that approach and make its commitment clear to all present and future employees. Predictability is what employees need. The exact decision—whether the company will commit to very good severance packages or commit to retraining—is less important than knowing what the decision will be.
If you’re an executive who cares about talent, you need to be thinking through the biggest disruptions facing your workforce and what your default position is, and then communicate it out. Your employees will thank you.