Schedules That Work Act Reintroduced in House and Senate

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, seven members of Congress joined workers and an employer at an event marking reintroduction of the Schedules that Work Act, federal legislation to provide vital protections for employees burdened with unpredictable, inflexible work schedules. If passed, it would provide stability for low-income workers and improve businesses’ bottom lines.

The Schedules that Work Act would guarantee employees the right to request scheduling accommodations from their employers without fear of retaliation. Additionally, workers with caregiving obligations, second jobs, or serious health conditions, as well as those enrolled in educational or job training programs, would have the right to receive such accommodations. Employers in the retail, food preparation and service, and building cleaning sectors would further be required to provide workers with their schedules at least two weeks in advance and compensate them with additional pay for last-minute schedule changes, being sent home from work early, or working split shifts.

This would dramatically improve the lives of workers like Hilaria Bonilla, a fast food worker and single mother who spoke at the briefing. When Bonilla was diagnosed with glaucoma, her doctor advised her not to work after dark. However, because she is afraid that any request to change schedules will lead her manager to cut her hours in retaliation, she has continued to work the night shift. The schedule accommodations guaranteed by the Schedules that Work Act would allow Bonilla to protect her health and spend more time with her daughter.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) stressed that businesses as well as their employees benefit from fair scheduling practices. When workers gain economic security [through predictable work schedules], it reduces turnover,” she explained. “This bill is actually pro-worker and pro-business.” This message was echoed by Washington, DC, restaurateur Tony Dundas-Lucca. The owner of 1905 and El Camino provides his 60 employees with their work schedules a month in advance and lets them request changes and trade shifts. The policies have been good for his bottom line: “These practices…are part of what allows us to maintain relatively low turnover in a high-turnover industry,” said Dundas-Lucca. “We save on the costs of hiring and training new staff, and we benefit from the higher morale and productivity of our satisfied employees.”

Research supports Dundas-Lucca’s testimony. Susan Lambert, a professor at the University of Chicago, described how managers at businesses that have implemented more flexible scheduling practices report greater productivity, improved customer service, and reduced absenteeism. Moreover, firms where managers considered employee needs in creating work schedules enjoyed almost 23 percent less employee turnover. Given the high cost of training new employees, implementing practices that encourage employee retention—most notably offering stable or flexible schedules—makes good business sense.

The bill’s reintroduction comes as interest in scheduling rights surges across the country. In 2015 alone, legislation to improve employer scheduling practices has been introduced in 12 jurisdictions. Additionally, San Francisco has enacted the country’s first comprehensive retail workers’ bill of rights, which includes provisions on scheduling and access to hours.

The Schedules that Work Act will provide critical support to workers struggling to plan their lives in the face of last-minute scheduling changes and unpredictable work hours. Wednesday’s reintroduction brings hope for swift Congressional action to promote sound business practices and support our nation’s most vulnerable workers.