Seattle Passes New Worker Scheduling Law

Lev Craig

On Monday, the Seattle City Council passed a new law regulating workers’ schedules, which creates a number of new requirements for employers and protections for employees. The new law is intended to prevent erratic and unpredictable schedules and applies to hourly, non-exempt employees of any retail establishments, full-service restaurants, and quick/limited food service establishments (such as fast food restaurants and coffee shops) that have over 500 employees worldwide.

Seattle recently passed expansive minimum wage and sick leave legislation. Many employees, however, have continued to suffer as a result of unpredictable schedules. For example, employees may work wildly different hours from week to week, leaving them unable to count on having a reliable paycheck, or receive schedules for an upcoming work week the day before the first shift of the week, making it nearly impossible to balance work with childcare or school.

Under the new law, employers must provide a written “good faith estimate of hours” to all employees upon their hire, which must be updated annually and whenever there is “a significant change.” The good faith estimate includes the median number of hours that the employee is expected to work per week and whether the employee will be expected to work on-call shifts. For any on-call hours for which they are not called in to work, employees must be compensated at half their hourly rate.

Employers are required to provide schedules to employees 14 calendar days in advance and must pay one hour of “predictability pay” for any schedule changes made less than 14 days in advance. In addition, if workers’ hours are cut in a schedule change made less than 14 days in advance, employees must be paid at half their hourly rate for any hours lost. The law adds that a “systemic pattern or practice of underscheduling”—i.e. scheduling more hours than the actual hours that are worked—will constitute a violation of the ordinance. When adding hours, employers must also first offer additional hours to existing employees before hiring new employees, subcontractors, or temporary employees, though exceptions may be made for seasonal hiring and participation in diversity and young-adult hiring program. Employers cannot pressure employees to take on or not take on additional shifts and cannot retaliate against employees for doing either.

Workers are also guaranteed input in the development of their work schedules, both at the time of their hire and throughout their employment. Employers are required to grant employees’ scheduling requests unless there is a bona fide, business-related reason not to do so, which the employer must provide in writing. Particular deference is given to requests for “caregiving, second job, or educational purposes,” and employers are required to give all scheduling requests “timely, good faith consideration.”

Further, the ordinance creates a “right to rest,” stipulating that there must be at least 10 hours between any two given shifts for which an employee is scheduled. Workers may choose to consent to shifts fewer than 10 hours apart, but an employer must pay them at one-and-a-half times their regular hourly rate and cannot require them to work such shifts.

In November 2014, a similar law was passed in San Francisco. While no such protections yet exist in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for scheduling laws and has stated that he plans to introduce legislation to regulate fast-food workers’ schedules.

If your employer has violated your rights as an employee, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.