The Legal Fight for Predictive Restaurant Scheduling

Four cities have passed laws related to predictable schedules for hourly employees.  Many more states have bills at the state level waiting to be passed.  

City ordinances in San Jose, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City require covered employers to offer predictable schedules to employees.  Each city has their own take on the law, but common themes of predictive scheduling laws include:

  • Hours must be offered to existing employees before the employers may hire additional staff, including temporary and contract staff
  • Employers must provide 14 days’ notice of an employee’s upcoming schedule
  • If the employer cuts the hours of that employee within 14 days, the employer must pay a penalty or percentage of the hours cut
  • If the employer requires additional hours with notice less than the two weeks, the employer may have to pay a higher hourly rate
  • If the employee chooses to change the schedule within the 14-day period, a penalty does not apply.  

Why aren’t restaurant employers publishing their schedules in advance?  Employees often have last-minute requests for scheduling changes. For the restaurant and retail industry, there can be unexplainable swings in sales from one day to the next making predicting labor needs two weeks in advance difficult.  No matter why the schedules are in flux, last-minute scheduling has a strong impact on employees’ lives.  

Recent studies are shedding light on that impact on hourly and part-time workers.  A Bureau of Labor and Statistics report found that 6.1 million part-time employees were looking for full-time work but were only offered part-time hours. A recent study by EINet (Employment Instability, Family Well-being, and Social Policy Network at the University of Chicago) found that of early career workers (age 26 to 32 years old)

  • 41 percent had one week or less notice of when they needed to be at work.  
  • 75 percent of the group did not know month-to-month how many total hours they would be scheduled for.  
  • 44 percent of the respondents were parents to children under the age of 12.    

Unpredictable restaurant schedules impact this group’s ability to secure child care, health care, transportation to work, and even access to government benefits. According to a Homebase survey, 46 percent of current hourly employees and job seekers preferred a dependable schedule over earning 10 percent more in wages.  For half of respondents, predictability is more valuable than money. What’s more, Homebase data reveals turnover drops as low as 26 percent for employees who receive eight days or more notice compared to a turnover rate of 42 percent when they receive only one to three days’ notice of an upcoming schedule.

According to a Homebase survey, 46 percent of current hourly employees and job seekers preferred a dependable schedule over earning 10 percent more in wages.

These laws may have an adverse impact on employees’ total hours worked, however.  A mistake of over-scheduling can be costly.  In the restaurant industry in particular, labor frequently runs around 33 percent of total sales.  Paying employees to work when they’re not needed can significantly impact profits.  As a result, some businesses opt to make do with fewer employees.

Whether your motivations are legal compliance or the desire to provide a valuable perk to your employees, providing an advanced schedule is easier than you think.  Keep in mind a few Dos and Don’ts listed below for simplifying employee scheduling.

Don’t let the hassle of employee requests for last-minute changes stop you from creating a schedule in advance.

Do use web-based scheduling tools, like Homebase, that allow employees to message and trade shifts with each other without having to use a manager’s time to update the schedule.  

Don’t delay creating a schedule because you can’t predict the total number of staff you will need in advance.

Do create schedules in advance for a minimum required core staff you consistently need to operate your business, if you are not covered by other scheduling regulations.  Even if you have to schedule more employees at a later time, at least some of your workforce has the benefit of advanced notice.  

Don’t guess what your labor needs might be.

Do use scheduling tools that offer the ability to forecast your labor as a percentage of sales on a daily basis, helping you better predict your workforce needs.  These tools are low-cost and even better than the programs that only Fortune 500 companies could afford just a few years ago.

Even for businesses that are not required to create schedules two weeks in advance, getting ahead of the curve and learning the skill of workforce planning can improve the quality of life and satisfaction of your hourly employees.  

Having a predictable schedule is something all states should strive for. It will keep restaurant workers happy, on the job longer and reduce the costs and headaches of finding new employees.