Government Wants to Fix Your Waiter's 'Unpredictable' Work Schedule


Part-time workers are sick of the unpredictability of their work schedules and the government wants to fix that. That is the premise behind the oh-so-cleverly titled "Schedules that Work Act," legislation introduced this week that says it will "require employers to provide more predictable and stable schedules for employees" who work part time or hourly.

How will our elected officials do this? By forcing bosses and employees to talk it out:

[Employers] shall engage in a timely, good faith interactive process with the employee that includes a discussion of potential schedule changes that would meet the employers needs.


According to The New York Times, laws like this are a part of a "growing national movement" to curb practices like "requiring employees to work unpredictable hours that wreak havoc with everyday routines like college and child care." Vermont and San Francisco have already "adopted laws giving workers the right to request flexible or predictable schedules to take care of children or aging parents."

But employers don't have to grant schedule requests if they have a "bona fide business reason" for not doing so. The only thing proposals like these do is show the ignorance of the lawmakers pushing for their passage. 

The industries that the Schedues That Work Act is aimed at—hospitality, retail, food service—use flexible schedules because to stay profitable they must adjust their labor supply to meet a demand that fluctuates widely from day to day. For example, the amount of customers that visit a restaurant  can change rapidly depending on hard-to-predict factors such as whether it rained that day or whether regular patrons decided to try out a new restaurant around the block.

It's true that a lot of part-time workers are unhappy with their employment conditions. The number of part-time workers who would prefer to work full time has nearly doubled since 2007, to 7.5 million, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Almost half of part-time, hourly workers receive a week or less of advance notice about their schedule. 

Unpredictable scheduling practices can be frustrating for workers, but the government can't fix that. Workers, however, can. The New York Times article gives a great examples of this:

Sharlene Santos says her part-time schedule at a Zara clothing store in Manhattan—ranging from 16 to 24 hours a week—is not enough. "Making $220 a week, that's not enough to live on—it's not realistic," she said.

After Ms. Santos and four other Zara workers recently wrote to the company, protesting that they were given too few hours and received just two days' notice for their schedule, the company promised to start giving them two weeks' advance notice.

Not all companies will be so receptive, and that's okay because they will lose out on retaining good employees. Eventually, those workers frustrated with inefficient management will leave for positions that better suit their scheduling needs, or they will gain more skills and be able to move to a position of higher skill, better pay and, yes, a schedule that fits their needs.