City Council Members Backing Proposed Law to Protect Retail and Restaurant Employees

by Amal Rafiq, Law Clerk

Councilwoman Helen Gym, known for her human rights work with Philadelphia public schools, has recently introduced a bill to mandate employers of large chain restaurants and retailers to engage in consistent scheduling practices. The Philadelphia Workweek Bill is the newest attempt by council members to fight for employees in the labor rights movement.

What is the Fair Workweek bill?

The proposed bill targets employee scheduling in an effort to make scheduling more consistent. Restaurant and retail employees are plagued with inconsistent schedules that make it difficult to maintain a budget, secure childcare, and plan daily activities. Councilwoman Gym’s proposed bill would require at least two weeks’ notice of when employees are scheduled to work, internal schemes for employees to request an increase or decrease of hours, compensation for last-minute changes, and protection against employer retaliation. This bill would revolutionize Philadelphia’s retail and fast-food industry, but the concept itself is not novel.

New York City as an example

Several other cities have adopted a similar bill to enhance employee rights such as New York City. New York City’s fair workweek laws went into effect in November 2017, ending unfair scheduling practices in the retail and restaurant industries. New York City fair workweek laws are similar to the proposed Philadelphia workweek bill in that they mandate two weeks’ notice of employee schedules. The New York fair workweek laws include an outright ban of a prevalent practice in the retail industry: on-call scheduling. On-call scheduling is an exploitative scheduling practice where employees are informed only a few hours before the beginning of their shift whether they are needed for their shift. Since New York workweek laws went into effect, employees have found that they are better able to maintain a job by securing consistent childcare and have found an increase in general stability in their lives outside of work.

Inconsistent scheduling as a main factor in employee discipline

Inconsistent scheduling practices can have extensive effects into employees’ lives. Single parents, specifically single mothers, face difficulty finding child care when their work schedules are unknown and sporadic. They have trouble paying their bills and are left wondering whether a different employer would ensure stability. Inconsistent scheduling leads to an increase in disciplinary measures taken against single mothers for being unable to find proper childcare. Scheduling issues can also disrupt employees’ access to education. Lack of proper structure can result in poor grades or excessive absenteeism preventing students from succeeding. Steady scheduling practices are shown to be effective in remedying budgeting issues for employees in cities such as New York and San Francisco where similar bills have been implemented. Employees report having the ability to ensure deadlines are met and provide better access to educational opportunities for themselves and their children.

What if my employer does not comply?

The Philadelphia workweek bill provides for a private right of action by the individual, the administrative agency, and the city solicitor aggrieved by a violation of the bill. The charging party must first notify the administrative agency tasked with implementing the bill and bring a civil action after the agency has rendered a decision regarding the merits of the case. The aggrieved employee can recover unpaid compensation including lost wage benefits or other damages suffered up to a maximum of $2000. Aggrieved employees are also entitled to attorney’s fees and costs for being forced to bring the claim because of an employer’s noncompliance.

How are smaller businesses affected?

The bill is opposed by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce as “anti-growth” legislation, or legislation that would stump the growth of small businesses. However, the bill only applies to larger employers and it creates long-term changes that are beneficial for employers of all sizes. The Chamber of Commerce further states that the proposed workweek bill “discourages and threatens more families living in poverty than it will help,” however, they offer no evidence or further explain how this bill would negatively impact employees. The Chamber of Commerce is specifically against a premium paid to employees for last-minute schedule changes, called a “predictability pay”, however, only large companies with the most resources and most to gain from the legislation are impacted by predictability pay.

When can I expect to see change?

Many employers are currently not equipped to comply with the proposed workweek bill. If approved, businesses will be forced to change their scheduling practices. To prevent an initial disruption, business must immediately respond and create internal schemes in anticipation of the passage of the bill. As a business owner, it is pertinent to stay on top of new and proposed labor practices. Staying ahead of the law will only benefit both parties.

A reasonable right to know your schedule

Philadelphia City Council members are gearing up for a fight against unfair and exploitative employment practices. The proposed workweek bill provides for protections that are necessary for restaurant and retail industry workers to maintain a balance between work, family, and education. Some employers are already in compliance with the bill due to internal procedures; this bill brings most other employers up to speed by ensuring employees have adequate access to their schedules. A public hearing will be held on October 30, 2018 to decide which action to take on the bill.

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