My daughter, who is just learning the days of the week, likes to plan. Each weekday, she counts how many more days she has until her “home days.” She counts down the days to her next swim lesson and to her next birthday (or, currently, to her 3 ¾ birthday). She lays out her plans for our Saturdays, usually involving scheduled trips to multiple different playgrounds. And if her schedule becomes unpredictable – if she’s picked up early or late from daycare, or if we have to skip part of her regular bedtime routine – she is thrown off.
That ability to plan, to have a schedule that is regular and predictable, is a basic human need. It’s at least as important to the 33-year-olds and 63-year-olds among us as the 3-year-olds. But increasingly, employers are failing to respect that basic need. As my colleague David Webbert has blogged about, many employers are using automated software to schedule shifts only a few days in advance, do not guarantee any minimum hours to part-time workers, and require workers to be willing to work any shift and to remain “on-call” until they learn whether they’re needed on a given day.
The recent recession caused huge increases in the number of employees who work part-time but want to work full-time. In 2014, the number of part-time workers who sought full-time work was 7.5 million, nearly double what it was in 2007. And alongside that increase in part-time work, chaotic and unpredictable scheduling has spread rapidly throughout the retail and restaurant industries. Currently, nearly 50% of all part-time workers get less than a week of advance notice about their schedule. Some employers give just a day or two’s notice.
These harsh scheduling practices cause real harm, just as much as a sub-living-wage paycheck. Irregular shift schedules make it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to arrange childcare, attend college classes, provide support for an aging relative, or get a second part-time job. In short, it makes it impossible to plan.
Increasingly, state governments (and some employers) have taken notice. Last month, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent letters to 13 big retailers in the state, including Gap, Target, and Abercrombie & Fitch, questioning their scheduling practices. New York has a law on the books that requires most employers to pay workers for four hours if they show up for work and are sent home. The Attorney General’s letter questioned whether employers were violating that law by requiring employees to be “on call” and notifying them just a few hours before their shift (or sometimes even texting them on their way to work) to say they’re not needed.
A number of other states, including Maine, are working to address these inhumane scheduling practices. Eight states already have laws similar to New York’s. And a national campaign, the Fair Workweek Initiative, is introducing legislation across the country to protect employees from these volatile, on-call schedules.
Maine could be part of this movement. Last week, the Legislature held a committee hearing on a bill that would require large employers (over 100 employees) to provide workers with their schedules two weeks in advance. A representative of the Chamber of Commerce testified that this would place Maine “out of step” with other states.
But the truth is, Maine will be left behind if we do not act to curb these abusive scheduling practices. Whether you’re 3, 33, or 63, you have a right to a schedule you can count on.