These US cities are reforming shift work – we should too

employeesHourly-paid and shift workers are heavily exposed to unpredictable work, leaving them vulnerable to last minute changes to schedules, inconsistent wage packets and a lack of control over their work-life balance.

Overseas, this issue has sparked a raft of new workplace policies in a handful of US cities to protect shift workers in retail, fast food and hospitality industries from unfavorable scheduling practices. The laws aim to give employees some level of stability and job security by instituting cut-offs for schedule changes.

San Francisco, Seattle and New York City have become some of the first cities to actively push for predictable workplace laws for hourly-paid employees. Authorities in these cities have implemented varying levels of legislation that require employers to pay employees for scheduling changes made with less than two weeks’ notice.

Chicago followed suit most recently with its Fair Workweek Ordinance, which is set to impact 40 per cent of the city’s workforce. This particular ordinance states that employers need to compensate employees with one hour of ‘predictability pay’ for any scheduling changes made with less than two weeks’ notice. Compensation is determined on the employee’s regular rate of pay.

How Australia compares

When we look at our own domestic workplace laws here in Australia, there is a real lack of legislation to protect employees from unpredictable workplace practices. The most significant piece of guidance for the hourly-paid workforce lies in the Fair Work Industry awards guidance, which is limited to wage guidance alone. The nature of this document is indicative of a wider flawed system that is caught up in legal jargon and way too complex to interpret for both employer and employee alike.

Many Australian hourly-paid shift workers are accustomed to having one or two days’ notice of upcoming shifts, offering little wriggle room to balance other life priorities. Adding to this, they are also susceptible to see scheduled shifts disappear if their bosses decide they’re not needed at the very last minute, missing out on the earnings of that paycheck.

Hourly-paid shift workers also need to constantly be aware of the tasks they undertake while on the clock, as this can impact their associated level of pay. But accurately capturing the tasks performed and hours worked can be a minefield for employers and employees alike. The time an employee spends setting up chairs at the beginning of a shift, or taking out the rubbish out at the end of the night, are often overlooked.

California’s supreme court recently ruled that time spent performing tasks off the clock needs to be properly recorded and compensated, and that the responsibility lies with the employer to correctly track and record that time, or face penalties.

No excuses

The movement towards predictable rostering and accurate compensation is one I wholeheartedly support. Regardless of local regulations, I believe fair scheduling and remuneration should play a part in every business.

Aussie businesses impacted by tricky pay structures need to be hyper-aware of whether they’re asking an employee to complete a task that could be deemed “off the clock” to ensure that they don’t land in hot water legally. It’s understandable that busy managers may accidentally overlook the tracking of hours worked, tasks performed and varying levels of pay rates. But that’s no longer an excuse in this day and age, when there are myriad automation and advanced technology solutions to take away the risk of human error in many industries.

When looking to current workplace policies implemented in other countries, it is clear that they are taking an employee-led approach. Empowering employees with control over their rights is leading to more accountability and integrity for both parties.

There is a lot that Australian authorities can and should be learning from overseas policies that support the protection of employees from unpredictable work and incorrect pay.

Author: Ashik Ahmed, CEO and founder of Deputy.


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