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Editorial

What's my work schedule? Employees deserve an earlier answer

A bill to give two weeks' notice of work schedules would aid Californians balancing jobs, family and finances

Over the last few years, many large employers of part-time workers — such as retailers and restaurant chains — have adopted what's known as "just in time" scheduling, which gives workers little or no notice of what days they'll be working. In some cases, workers show up as scheduled, only to be told they have no shift that day. Other times workers are sent home early, before their shifts are done, or they're required to check in on scheduled days to see if they are in fact needed. These systems help businesses reduce labor costs and better match staffing with fluctuating customer demands.

But what's good for business is not always good for workers, who need predictability to manage the rest of their lives, whether that means holding a second part-time job, caring for children or finding time for medical appointments. And it leaves already low-paid workers scrambling to make up for the hours they've lost unexpectedly.

California Assemblyman David Chiu's AB 357 would help workers by requiring retailers and food-service employers with at least 500 employees in California, and at least 10 outlets elsewhere in the country, to set work schedules at least two weeks in advance and stick to them. Some elements of the bill, such as penalties for ending shifts early, are already covered under other laws. But requiring the advance posting of work schedules is new, and welcome. Business advocates complain about government overreach and reduced flexibility, but the greater good here is more predictable work schedules for tens of thousands of Californians trying to balance jobs, family responsibilities and finances.

Chiu's legislation, which is similar to a measure he pushed through while a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, imposes penalties on companies if they change work schedules, to be paid to the affected employee. It grants exemptions for companies that call in workers to cover shifts for ill or no-show employees. And there is no penalty if it is the worker who requests the change, or if a power outage, act of nature or other factor beyond an employer's control causes the shift cancellation. The bill also ensures that workers get up to eight hours of unpaid time off twice a year to attend CalWORKs appointments, a reflection of the number of part-time workers who also receive government assistance.

Given the trend toward just-in-time work shifts, this is a prudent protection for California workers and their families, with only limited negative effects on employers. The Legislature should move this bill, and Gov. Jerry Brown should sign it.

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