Labor

‘Fair Workweek’ bill is anything but fair to workers who will suffer from its enactment

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Lawmakers on Maine’s Labor and Housing Committee today will hold a public hearing on LD 1345, a bill that would require employers to provide their employees with at least two weeks prior notice of the employees’ work schedule. The bill would penalize employers for making scheduling changes without giving employees adequate notice, despite employers having little control over day-to-day events that cause scheduling changes to arise in the first place.

The language of LD 1345 reads in part:

“..an employer shall provide an employee with the following compensation per shift for each previously scheduled shift that the employer moves to another date or time or cancels and each previously unscheduled shift that the employer adds to the employee’s work schedule:

A.  With less than 7 days’ notice but 24 hours’ or more notice to the employee, one hour of pay at the employee’s regular hourly rate;

B.  With less than 24 hours’ notice to the employee, 2 hours of pay at the employee’s regular hourly rate for each shift of 4 hours or less; and

C.  With less than 24 hours’ notice to the employee, 4 hours of pay at the employee’s regular hourly rate for each shift of more than 4 hours.

When the employee is required to come to work, the compensation mandated by this subsection is in addition to the employee’s regular pay for working that shift. This subsection does not apply to on-call shifts.”

There’s no doubt that last-minute changes to work schedules can be a headache for workers, and that some employers fail to do enough to create predictable schedules for their employees. But in seeking to establish tighter worker protections, this bill goes too far and threatens to cause unintended effects that will harm the very employees it seeks to help. It also assumes that scheduling changes are always burdensome to employees, but in reality, many workers gravitate towards employment opportunities where scheduling is flexible and work shifts can be formed around other responsibilities.

These sorts of scheduling laws are fairly new — San Francisco was the first jurisdiction to adopt such a policy in 2014 — and the evidence so far provides good reason for caution. A 2016 study found that San Francisco’s policy had caused 35 percent of employers to be less flexible with employee schedules. More importantly, 17 percent were offering fewer jobs across the board and 21 percent of businesses were offering fewer part-time shifts.

These real-world results highlight the unintended consequences of well-meaning advanced scheduling mandates. Employers respond by making work schedules more rigid and less adaptable to the dynamic needs of their employees. Workers who previously valued the opportunity to pick up an occasional extra shift on short notice may lose this ability, reducing their income. At the same time, the burdens of complying with the regulations make employers reluctant to hire workers, particularly for part-time, variable-hour positions.

Even without restrictive scheduling requirements, the problem of employees being forced to work an unexpected shift is not pervasive. In San Francisco, just one in seven part-time workers are estimated to be working that schedule involuntarily. The reason is simple. An employer who consistently calls employees to work on short notice is unlikely to retain a quality workforce or stay in business long. On the other hand, employers who take care to give employees ample notice of scheduling decisions will attract better, more productive workers. There are exceptions, of course, but market forces still provide a powerful incentive to treat employees well.

By targeting businesses with as few as five employees, this bill would impose significant burdens on mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, contractors and other small businesses. Since employers with between five and 100 employees make up about 40 percent of all businesses in Maine and account for the majority of jobs, making it harder for these businesses is the wrong approach.

Its intentions are laudable, but LD 1345 would do more harm than good to Maine’s part-time workforce and small business community.

About Liam Sigaud

Liam Sigaud is a former policy analyst at The Maine Heritage Policy Center. A native of Rockland, Maine, he holds a B.A. in Biology from the University of Maine at Augusta and has studied policy analysis and economics at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. He can be reached by email at liam.sigaud@maine.edu.

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