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Is Predictive Scheduling the Next City Council Regulation?

Several employee benefit issues are being brought before the Austin City Council for new regulation such as the Paid Sick Leave ordinance in February. The process for the Paid Sick Leave ordinance was largely seen as destructive and divisive. AIBA would like to help steer the next process to be one where all parts of our community come together to produce better policies.
So what is coming? It is called many things, but some of the common names are: “Predictive scheduling”, “fair scheduling” or “secure scheduling”. We will call it “predictive scheduling”.
What is it? Predictive scheduling, as it is commonly called, is a policy being proposed across the nation that requires business owners provide employees with their schedule a certain number of days in advance (some municipalities are proposing as much as 60 days in advance). This type of policy can be especially problematic for many on-call employees, including restaurants and  landscaping. The policy says, if the employee is not given their schedule that many days in advance, the business must pay time and a half for those shifts without adequate advanced notice. Since the Austin policy has not been written yet, we don’t know what the advance notice is or the penalty for non-compliance but those are the key provisions.
AIBA conducted a local business survey in July to give local businesses a chance to weigh in and to direct AIBA in our advocacy.
95% do not support the City Council creating an ordinance regulating predictive scheduling.
79% of respondents said that scheduling has not been a problem for their employees. Many cited the flexibility as a benefit that their employees liked. While the answers were fairly consistent, they varied by industry.
While 30% said they can and do schedule two weeks out, only 11% could accommodate advanced scheduling three weeks out.
98% could not afford to pay extra for changed schedules.
This issue leaves us to wonder “What problem are we trying to solve?” There are part-time employee with multiple jobs that might have difficulty with last minute schedule changes since that could affect the schedule of other jobs. It is also understandable that if just one employee changes their schedule, the employer must change the schedule for another employee to fill in the shift. We also saw in our survey that many employees like the flexible shift model precisely because they do engage in other activities. They can take off at will by finding another employee to take their shift.
According to our survey, most local businesses with shift work begin the scheduling with what the employees want and let a voluntary system work for picking up extra shifts when available. This system work most of the time for both employers and employees. It gives employees the flexibility they desire and gives the employer the needed staff for each shift. Sometimes employees work a shift they’d rather not work and sometimes employers fill in short shifts.
But some policies plan to penalize the employer by enforcing a possible time and a half wage on any shift that changes. Essentially, if one employee changes a shift, it forces the employer to change a shift for another employee. The employer would be penalized for accommodating the employee. The word affordability comes to mind on all fronts. Many of our respondents said that this penalty would force them to be less flexible on scheduling so as not to invoke the additional costs. In this case, employees lose the flexibility they desire.
But this policy brings to the forefront a question of economic and workplace dynamics. Is it the responsibility of every small, local business to provide a job that suits every employee? Is it the responsibility of each employee to find the job that best suits their needs? If unpredictable shift work is a problem for an individual employee, then isn’t it more reasonable for that employee to find a job that fits their needs rather than change entire industries? What are the unintended consequences of too much regulation on a free market system? A policy tightly regulating employee scheduling has the possibility of denying flexibility options to the majority while delivering stability to the few.
The Austin City Council will be charged with creating regulations and policies that provide our citizenry with the opportunity for a better life. But targeting small local business is not the answer.