Oregon’s coming work scheduling mandate

osba-logoBy Oregon Small Business Association,

The Oregon legislature is planning a new expansive employment law that deals with how employers schedule their workers. The new law makes it both more difficult and more expensive to schedule employees.

Version of the law would likely include:

  • A requirement that employers provide work schedules two weeks in advance, with a penalty of up to four hours of pay for subsequent changes;
  • A requirement to provide up to four hours of penalty pay for scheduled on-call shifts when the employee is told not to report; and
  • A requirement to offer more work to certain part-timers before hiring additional staff.

The new law imposes the onerous work rules of union shops on all businesses–big and small, profit and nonprofit. This sort of one-size-fits-all approach to employment can drive smaller enterprises out of business.

For instance, imagine a construction firm building a new home. Because of backlogs with the city government, the necessary permits are two weeks behind in being issued, halting construction. A work schedule created two weeks earlier could not have anticipated the delay. No matter: The backlog at the city permitting office means that the construction firm must pay workers who have no work to do. What seems like a tiny backlog to city bureaucrats can turn into a financial disaster for small businesses.

It works the other way around, too. Think of a newly opened restaurant. A week after opening, the local paper publishes glowing review, causing a surge of customers. A work schedule put together two weeks earlier could not have even guessed at the restaurant’s new found popularity. Because of the new law, the restaurant cannot add more staff to accommodate the unexpected new customers. As a result, the restaurant get slammed on Yelp for its slow service and business drops off to a trickle and the restaurant closes within the year.

Even local governments will suffer under such onerous regulation. Consider a city swimming pool faced with a thunderstorm in the middle of July, shutting the pool for the day. A work schedule created two weeks earlier could not have planned on a thunderstorm and the resulting pool closure. The law doesn’t care about that. The last-minute pool closure means that the city must pay the lifeguards, swim instructors, and concession workers even though the pool is not bringing in any money from admission fees (and may need to refund money from cancelled classes). The cost of paying for unscheduled closures means fewer summer programs at the city’s pools.

Proponents of “predictive scheduling” laws claim to be protecting workers from capricious or abusive work schedules. These laws can backfire when “scheduling certainty” the flexibility that many workers desire. For example, recent research surveying 100 restaurant and retail businesses likely affected by Washington, DC’s law found that most employers (73 percent) would offer employees less flexibility to make schedule changes. More than half of the businesses said they would reduce the number of part-time workers. Half of the employers said they would reduce overall employment in their firms. By increasing the cost of using employees, these laws would reduce employment. In addition, they may make working conditions worse by forcing rigid scheduling rules typical of unionized workplaces.

Employment contracts are voluntary contracts between the employer and employee. Good employers who want to keep good employees will give them the scheduling certainty they need. At the same time, good employees who want to work for good employers will entertain the scheduling flexibility needed to keep the employer in business. One-size-fits all laws are the problem, not the solution.

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