Seattle’s New Scheduling Law Signals a Trend

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Sept. 19 that mandates more predictable schedules for workers at large retail and food-service establishments. 

Final adoption of the "Secure Scheduling" ordinance, which awaits the signature of Mayor Ed Murray (D), would give Seattle the most sweeping scheduling rights law in the country. 

People should be paying attention to this development, since it signals an emerging trend in the adoption of scheduling laws. 

A handful of jurisdictions already have laws that address the way employers set and change employee schedules. For example, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., have enacted laws that force employers to pay employees who are required to show up to work and are either sent home immediately or work only limited hours. 

Under a San Francisco ordinance known as the retail workers’ Bill of Rights, employers must give two weeks’ notice of work schedules and provide "predictability pay" if they make last-minute changes without a valid reason (as spelled out in the official notice that employers must post). And in both San Francisco and SeaTac, Wash., covered employers that experience increased labor demands must offer extra hours to part-time workers before bringing in more people. 

Seattle’s ordinance combines various requirements found in existing scheduling laws, plus it introduces some new ones. The ordinance requires the following: 

  • Advance notice: Employers must give employees their schedules 14 days in advance and are required to pay employees premiums for schedule changes.
  • Employee input: Employers must allow employees to request input on their schedules. Employers must engage in a timely, interactive process to consider employees’ scheduling requests and can’t deny employees’ scheduling requests related to their serious health condition, caregiving, education, or second job responsibilities/conflicts unless employers have a "bona fide business reason" and respond in writing.
  • Rest between shifts: Employers can’t schedule employees for shifts separated by fewer than 10 hours without employee consent. Employers must pay employees who work such shifts at 1.5 times their regular rate.
  • On-call pay: Employers must pay half-time for each shift in which employees who are on-call don't get called in to work.
    • Access to hours: Employers must offer additional hours to existing employees before hiring more employees or bringing in subcontractors or temps to that particular workplace. Employers must post written notice of available hours in conspicuous and accessible locations where employee notices are customarily posted.

     The city has released an infographic and detailed summary to help employers prepare for the ordinance. Covered establishments include retailers with more than 500 employees worldwide, quick or limited food-service establishments with more than 500 employees worldwide, and restaurants with more than 500 employees and 40 full-service locations worldwide. 

    Seattle’s mayor played a central role in promoting the ordinance. "Seattle once again is taking concrete steps to address income inequality," Murray said in a written statement released after the vote. "Secure scheduling helps working families, young people, students, and workers of color by providing stability and clarity to their work schedules." 

    On the opposite side of the country, meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced Sept. 15 that the city will be developing its own scheduling ordinance to protect fast-food workers. Other jurisdictions considering scheduling laws include Albuquerque, N.M., San Jose, Calif., Washington, D.C., and the states of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island.

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