What does the research show about the need for fair work scheduling legislation in the United States?

A retail employee folds shirts for display on the main-floor area of a Seattle-based outdoor, bike, ski, and clothing company.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) today is hosting a press conference with workers and advocates for fair scheduling practices to highlight her legislation, the Schedules That Work Act. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is the sponsor of the companion bill in the Senate. The legislation is intended to address the unpredictable and inconsistent workplace schedules that affect about 17 percent of U.S. workers, particularly among low-income workers in retail and service-industry jobs. The proposed legislation, for example, would require employers to provide workers with their schedules two weeks in advance and compensate workers who are sent home from a scheduled shift because there’s not enough work for them that day.

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth has spent a lot of time studying the issues surrounding unpredictable work schedules. In a new report for the Hamilton Project on modernizing labor standards for the 21st century, Equitable Growth’s Heather Boushey and Bridget Ansel explain how unpredictable scheduling harms workers’ ability to balance their job responsibilities with other obligations such as arranging childcare. They highlight research done by sociologists Daniel Schneider of the University of California, Berkeley and Kristen Harknett at the University of California, San Francisco, which finds that unpredictable work schedules are associated with household financial insecurity and poor health. You can learn more about Schneider and Harknett’s research here.

Unpredictable scheduling also hurts the firms that engage in these types of employment practices and thus crimps growth in the broader economy. Boushey and Ansel lay out these broader consequences in an issue brief on the subject, in which they highlight research by the University of Chicago’s Susan Lambert that finds managers themselves place part of the blame for high employee turnover (among the stores surveyed for this research, turnover was more than 100 percent for part-time employees) on unstable schedules.

While Congress hasn’t taken action on the Schedules That Work Act, policymakers at the local level in San Francisco, Seattle, and Emeryville, CA, have all passed legislation that penalizes employers for giving insufficient notice of work schedules. Whether federal legislators decide to follow their lead, the research is accumulating that unpredictable work schedules threaten not only the stability of U.S. families but also businesses’ bottom lines. Neither outcome is good for economic growth.

November 14, 2017


Liz Hipple


Schedule Stability

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