DENVER — A bill making its way through the Colorado legislature aims to offer employees in certain industries more predictability with their schedules.
House Bill 23-1118 requires employers in restaurants, food and beverage manufacturing facilities and retail jobs with 250 employees or more worldwide to provide work schedules to employees with more notice.
“Workers in these sectors, oftentimes low wage workers, really are subject to very unpredictable scheduling practices, lots of last minute calls in, calls off. And it leaves workers in a very vulnerable economic position,” said Rep. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, the bill’s prime sponsor.
The bill requires these businesses to release work schedules at least two weeks in advance for employees. It allows employees to request changes to their schedules, requires businesses that cancel shifts last minute to pay employees and more.
“We are giving folks the right to rest. So that there should be 12 hours between shifts,” Sirota said.
Employees would still be able to switch their shifts with coworkers or volunteer to work more shifts, and there would be no penalty to the business. Sirota says that means employees would still have flexibility, but businesses would need to base their practices around predictability.
“Fast food is one of those sectors (where) this is a really common practice to tell people they're going to be scheduled for a certain time but just to keep that shift open,” Sirota said. “All of the risk is being placed on the employees and not the business, and so what we are just asking is for some fairness.”
Sirota says similar concepts have worked in Oregon and in cities like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
The case for predictability
Abby Vestecka has worn a lot of different hats over the years. They have worked in the food service industry, political canvassing, voter registration and door-to-door sales. They have also worked in escape rooms, dispensaries and even grocery stores.
Throughout all of these different jobs, one thing remained the same: unpredictable schedules that made Vestecka’s life chaotic.
“I've had doctor's appointments that I've had routinely scheduled every week that I've had to consistently reschedule, or I'm rushing to make it there on time,” Vestecka said.
Even something as simple as scheduling a veterinary appointment or shopping for could be a challenge.
Vestecka says in every job interview, they asked to have one consistent day off, and the business always agrees. However, a couple of months into work, the schedule changes. They will be asked to pick up extra shifts or work longer hours, and they feel pressured to do what the business is asking out of fear of losing their job.
“I definitely had my hours just abruptly cut where I was, you know, working 40 hours for quite a few weeks. And then all of a sudden, it's like, "Oh, you've only got 30 hours this week because, you know, we want to keep you under this. So you don't really qualify for full time,"” Vesteccka told Denver7.
The hour and shift cuts hurt the most, because like a lot of employees, Vestecka lives paycheck to paycheck. They support HB 23-1118, saying it will offer them a chance to do something so many others take for granted: plan ahead.
“Workers, we’re the ones that are making your business move forward, and we're making it happen every day. We need to be able to make plans just like the business wants to make plans for sales,” Vestecka said.
The case against HB23-1118
While the pre-scheduling sounds good on the surface, businesses say the change will have major impacts on their employees and their bottom line.
Lauren McGinley is the chief financial officer of Wahoo’s Fish Taco. The restaurant has seven locations in Colorado that span from Longmont down to Highlands Ranch.
Some of their employees are long-time chefs who have worked the grills for 20 years or more and are consistently reliable employees. Other are part-time high school and college students who can be unpredictable themselves and need to take time off last minute for homework or tests. That’s why McGinley says flexibility is key.
“I fear that if we are forced not to allow flexibility, we're going to lose employees. And we have a hard enough time getting employees right now as it is,” McGinley said.
Wahoo’s already posts schedules nine days in advance at the latest, but says it also cancels shifts occasionally depending on the situation and needs the flexibility to do that without being punished by the state.
“If there's a snowstorm coming in, we don't open. We let our restaurant close, and we let our employees stay home, where they want to do and be safe. This bill would penalize us financially for that,” she said.
During a time when restaurants are still recovering from the pandemic while dealing with inflation, labor shortages, supply chain issues and increasing costs, McGinley worries that this bill will just add another unfair burden onto businesses.
“We are struggling, and to layer on another financial responsibility and another roadblock to hiring employees can be detrimental,” she said. “Since this bill came out a couple of weeks ago, I spent hours laying at night trying to figure out how we would run our business, what we would do, and I haven't found a solution that's going to work.”
If the bill does pass and is signed into law, McGinley says companies would have to rethink who they are hiring.
Her bottom line is that this model might work for some industries, but it’s untenable for restaurants, in particular.
HB23-1118 is scheduled for its first committee hearing in mid-February and could mean big changes for businesses and employees if passed.