Seattle City Council Passes Secure Scheduling Law

by Judd Lees

With a unanimous vote by the Seattle City Council on September 19, 2016, Seattle became the second major city in the country to mandate employer notices prior to changing employee schedules.  Championed by organized labor and employee rights groups, the so-called “Secure Scheduling Law” is designed to provide more certainty for employees regarding the number of hours they work as well as their work schedules.  The measure, which is slated to take effect on July 1, 2017, will also provide headaches for employers operating in Seattle who rely on constant schedule adjustments to meet varying customer needs, as well as the hiring of temporary and part-time workers to address periodic work spikes.  To whom does the Ordinance apply and what does it require?

The Ordinance applies to large retailers and quick serve food establishments employing more than 500 employees worldwide, counting all employees in the franchise network or integrated enterprise.  The Ordinance also applies to full-service restaurants employing 500 or more employees which also have over 40 locations worldwide.  For these employers, the Ordinance requires the following for hourly, non-exempt employees who spend at least 50% of their work hours in Seattle.

First, covered employers must provide new hires a written good faith estimate of the expected median number of hours they will work and whether they will be expected to work on-call shifts.  Thereafter, a similar written notice needs to be provided to these employees on an annual basis and whenever the employer anticipates a significant change in either median hours or on-call availability.

Second, for existing employees, the employer must provide 14 days’ advance notice of changes in their work schedules and the notice will not be effective until completion of the currently posted work schedule.  This notice must be provided in person or over the telephone, email, text message or other accessible electronic or written format.  Employees will have the right to decline any shift which does not conform to their current posted schedule.

Third, employees will have a right to engage in a timely, interactive process in response to this written employer notice and, if the employee presents a health condition, caregiving responsibilities, educational needs or second job responsibilities which might be impacted by the revised schedule, the employer must provide a “bona fide business reason” in writing for denying the employee request that the proposed schedule change not occur.

Fourth, covered employers may not schedule employees to consecutive shifts that are separated by less than 10 hours unless the employee has requested or consented to it.  If the latter, the accommodating employee must be paid at time-and-a-half for each hour worked during the requisite 10-hour separation period.  This provision does not apply to split shifts.

Fifth, if additional work is needed, current, qualified employees must be offered these hours before the employer can hire additional employees, temporary workers or subcontractors to perform the additional work.  The offer to current employees must be in writing and must be posted where employee notices are typically posted.  It must be posted for at least three days, with an allowance of two days for a written employee acceptance, before the employer can then hire additional employees to perform the work.

Sixth, if employees are scheduled for on-call shifts but are not called in to report to work, they must be paid one-half the scheduled rate of pay for every scheduled, but unworked, hour.

Seventh, any reduction in employee hours from the posted schedule must be paid at one-half the scheduled rate of pay to the impacted employees.

Finally, the Ordinance protects employees from employer retaliation for exercising their rights under the Secure Scheduling Ordinance.

If the workforce is subject to a union agreement, the parties may negotiate an alternative structure but it must address the “secure scheduling” public policy goals of the Ordinance.

If any of the provisions are violated, the Ordinance calls for a graduated penalty schedule starting at $500 per worker for the first violation and then escalating thereafter. Enforcement will be handled by the City of Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards.  As a result, employers need to plan now in order to first determine if they are covered, and, if so, which employees are covered, as well as to create the requisite notice forms and processes in order to be ready when the Ordinance goes into effect on July 1, 2017. 

This Employment Law Note is written to inform our clients and friends of developments in labor and employment relations law. It is not intended nor should it be used as a substitute for specific legal advice or opinions since legal counsel may be given only in response to inquiries regarding particular factual situations. For more information on this subject, please call Sebris Busto James at (425) 454-4233.