Advice & Opinion

Legislators in Olympia want to make it harder for employees to work when they want

By Mark Harmsworth | Washington Policy Institute | Feb. 27, 2020

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position the Lynnwood Times.

Senate Bill 5717 would create requirements for employee scheduling, but as with many ideas suggested by legislators in Olympia, it would have the opposite affect that it is intended to.

On the surface the goal of the legislation is laudable. A more predictable schedule for employees with some guarantee of payment when the work isn’t available. However, the result is more likely to result in fewer hours, less money and less predictability for the employee.

The problem is the retail and restaurant business, the primary sectors affected by the legislation, don’t have control over when customers use their products and services. This leads to service and product demands on both the business owners and the employees that neither can accurately predict.

A restaurant owner may promote an event and schedule employees to be available to serve the anticipated customers. When those anticipated customers don’t show, the owner is left with several employees working on an hourly rate that will reduce any profits to zero, or even a loss. The requirement under SB 5717 to schedule employees 14 days in advance and post this information in multiple languages makes a bad situation worse. Many restaurants operate at 3% or less profit margin and a few schedule miscalculations will put them out of business. Add in the SB 5717 requirement to pay time and a half for hours canceled and this can get out of control very quickly.

The hard and fast requirement on scheduling and payment for cancelled hours will make an employer very cautious about scheduling additional employee hours. The result – less scheduled hours for employees and in the event of a last-minute uptick in available hours, less predictability.

Exactly the opposite effect of the intent of the legislation.

Additionally, SB 5717 would put restrictions on employers scheduling un-popular hours. Many employees don’t want to work a late shift or odd weekend hours; however, they are necessary to keep the doors open. Most employers work with employees to minimize hours that are less popular, distributing those hours across the entire workforce. Under SB 5717, employees can refuse to work certain shifts, leaving the employer and other employees to pick up the slack.

Many owners of small restaurants and retail stores understand the difficulty of scheduling as they often have worked as employees earlier in their careers. They are sympathetic to scheduling requirements and work in good faith to make them as predictable as possible. Sometimes though, its not practical or even possible to predict the demand for services that the business may experience. For those employers who treat their employees poorly, they will quickly find themselves out of business. No-one will want to work for them.

Legislators in Olympia should leave the business of running a small business to those who know best – the owners and employees of those businesses. When lawmakers interfere, bad things can happen. The $15 minimum wage is another example of how lawmakers thought it would help employees, only to discover it eliminated jobs.

SB 5717 is unnecessary and will reduce job opportunities and wages for the employees it is supposed to help.

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