If You've Worked in Shifts, You Understand the Struggle

June 30th 2017

Larry Buhl

No, really, I have to work then?

Anyone who’s had a job with on-call shifts has had to deal with uncertainty. At best, it's annoying. At worst, it leads to a roller coaster income stream and a constantly disrupted life. Just try to find a good sitter when you’re called to be at work in two hours.

Managers who care about their workers understand this and try to give employees as much notice as possible. Some employers don’t: it’s this group that lawmakers in Oregon targeted with recent legislation.

Work schedules change week to week. Count on it.

Imagine a world of predictable schedules and stable paychecks

The Fair Work Week Act, SB 828, cleared the final legislative hurdles Thursday. Governor Kate Brown, a democrat, is expected to sign it, which would make Oregon the first state in the nation to regulate employee work schedules.

The act applies to retail, food service and hospitality employers with at least 500 workers worldwide. Individually-owned franchises are not covered by the law.

Starting in July 2018, employers would have to provide workers with an estimated schedule seven days before the first day of that week’s work. In July 2020, that advance requirement increases to 14 days.

It also requires employers to pay workers extra if they have fewer than 10 hours off between shifts, and it lets workers to turn down extra shifts without penalty. It also requires employers to maintain standby list of employees who are willing to be called into work on short notice.

Several cities, including Seattle, San Jose and San Francisco, have similar workplace scheduling laws, and there is momentum for such laws in other cities, like Chicago. A supporter of the Oregon legislation, Rep. Ann Lininger, told ATTN that a statewide law like Fair Work Week is easier on companies because it prohibits municipalities from setting their own scheduling regulations.

“With a state law, you can avoid a patchwork of municipal laws that can be confusing for larger companies with more than one location,” Lininger said.

Hannah Taube, a spokesperson for the Oregon Working Family Party said that smaller employers are not included in the legislation because they are more likely to consider the human factor in scheduling.

“There are some bad actors (among smaller companies) but we heard a lot of ‘our employees are like family’ from small employers,” Taube told ATTN:. “The Fair Work Week bill sets the floor and controls the bad actors.”

There are two provisions for enforcement in the bill, Taube said. Employees can lodge complaints for infractions with the state Bureau of Labor and Industry, and they have a right to private action (hiring a lawyer) without threat of retaliation.

Really, clopens, seriously?

More rest, fewer “clopens”

It’s not sadistic bosses who make havoc out of employees’ lives. Well, occasionally it is. More often it’s inventory software to blame, according to a recent report out of Portland State University. The report showed that the increasing use of scheduling software encouraged employers to manage employees on a just-in-time basis. Just as algorithms are used for scheduling the restocking of canned tuna and crew-neck sweaters, based on demand, they can predict next-day demands and move employee schedules around based on those predictions. 

Oblivious to human needs, the software may:

  • Schedule employees for consecutive closing and openings shifts, known un-affectionately as “clopens.”
  • Give less than 24 hours notice for new work schedules.
  • Allow wide variability in hours week to week, making it impossible to take classes, for example.

The study found that these practices are increasingly common in retail, hospitality, and food services, which often have some of the lowest-paid jobs. “These workers are more vulnerable to fluctuating incomes from less predictable schedules,” Taub said.