Lawyer argues 'fair workweek' ordinance would leave businesses vulnerable
The proposed Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance, designed to offer greater shift predictability for hourly workers, could put significant financial burdens on businesses, according to attorney Lilia Picazo.
“There are several fundamental issues we have with the proposed ordinance,” Picazo posted on the website of Chicago law firm Keefe, Campbell Biery and Associates, where she works. “For starters, the ordinance would apply to all Chicago businesses. Thus, the law mandates 'pooling' the likes of the retail, service, hospitality and other industries together – none of which are the same.”
The ordinance, based on similar measures in San Francisco, New York and Seattle, would require employers to set minimum work schedules at least two weeks in advance, with any deviation – cancellations, reductions or changes to employees’ hours – costing the employer one hour of “predictability pay." Employees whose hours are canceled less than 24 hours before their shift would be eligible for up to four hours of pay.
Under the ordinance, employees could refuse to work hours outside of those for which they are scheduled or shifts scheduled to begin within 11 hours of their previous shift. Workers who do accept those shifts would earn time-and-a-half pay. Employers would also be required to offer their employees more hours before hiring additional workers.
In her post, Picazo pointed out the ordinance’s potential to wreak havoc on Chicago businesses. With all categories of employers treated the same, businesses that experience unpredictable demand stand to pay their employees significantly more regardless of their attempts at fair scheduling, she said.
“… Brick and mortar shops are already taking a hit for slower traffic in shops,” Picazo wrote. “The proposed ordinance would add yet another cost to employers for any changes made to employees’ work schedules despite efforts made by the employer to reasonably schedule employees be it on-call or not for work shifts depending on foot traffic flow…Restaurants and other businesses (would be required) to abide by a 14-day notice of work schedule and foreseeable work hours, yet does not consider factors such as weather or sporting events which can greatly alter traffic flow.”
In instances where employees request shift changes, the employer is not required to provide predictability pay, but Picazo argues that this does not actually provide much protection to employers.
“… Work schedules are not necessarily generated by a computer and thought is placed into the creation of work schedules, including past sales trends and foot traffic,” Picazo wrote. “Without delving any further into how work schedules may be created, it is fair to say that employees are hired for different positions and are skilled in different areas of work despite working for the same employer.”
If one employee initiates a shift change, Picazo contends, it is likely that his employer will have to change the schedule for other employees to ensure that the shift has the proper mix of skill sets. In that case, the changes would trigger predictability pay for the other employees – and potentially also time-and-a-half pay depending on when their preceding shifts ended – and lead to higher operating costs for the employer.
Businesses that violate the ordinance would face fines from $500 to $1,000.
“Those affected most by the ordinance will likely be the smaller businesses who will have to consider other cost-effective means such as understaffing or cutting back on the number of new hires to account for the potential penalties for violating the proposed ordinance or paying employees for changing shifts with less than 14 days or 24 hours’ notice,” Picazo wrote.