For retail businesses across California, the challenge of scheduling employees is a widely contemplated effort that requires balancing the needs of employees, while also responding to customer demand. It’s a complex process that involves a delicate approach, which is why it’s unreasonable that a California legislator is attempting to apply a one-size-fits-all scheduling mandate with Assembly Bill 357.
Authored by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, AB 357 imposes a rigid scheduling mandate on all California retailers with 500 or more employees by penalizing the employer for making or allowing changes to the work schedule with less than two weeks notice of the schedule shift. This legislation not only ties the hands of retailers in responding to customer demand, but also denies employees the opportunity to pick up additional work hours at the last minute or request unanticipated time off.
San Francisco recently passed a similar measure that has yet to take effect because stakeholders are piecing together a plan to comply with the law. Consequently, the negative impacts are yet to be realized in San Francisco, which makes AB 357 all the more reckless in that the same San Francisco legislator who championed the local policy is now pushing to apply the effort statewide.
AB 357 will not do what the author claims. It will, however, back retailers into a rigid scheduling system – forcing them to deny employee requests for last-minute scheduling changes to shift hours or pick up additional work if their schedule permits, as retailers will be wary of paying penalties for accommodating eleventh-hour scheduling requests.
It’s the rigidity in AB 357 that makes it difficult for California retailers to operate, in failing to factor in circumstances that are unforeseen beyond a retailer’s control. When developing an employee schedule, a store must consider employee scheduling requests, sales forecasts, store productivity, workload, in-store events, merchandise deliveries and customer traffic patterns, along with other factors. At any given time, factors can change due to unexpected scenarios such as a heat wave, cold front, special event or popular product launch that force a retailer to adjust the schedule to keep pace with customer demand. AB 357 eliminates this flexibility, leading to inaccurate scheduling and disruptions for employees and employers.
And let’s not forget those employees, which AB 357 downright ignores, who choose retail because of the scheduling flexibility. Students are drawn to retail for the chance to pick up hours to supplement their income, while others choose retail for the flex hours to supplement their holiday shopping and other special events. In fact, employee opinion survey data at many retailers reveal that this flexibility is highly desired among employees.
What’s more, AB 357 puts the brakes on innovations being considered in scheduling. One California retailer is exploring the development of an app that allows employees to see and ask for open shifts in real time, while another retailer is assessing technology to promote shift swapping between employees. It’s the market that drives retailers to consider innovative scheduling solutions, as customers are routinely demanding a quality shopping experience that can only be delivered by satisfied employees.
California retailers recognize the importance of investing in their workforce; it’s good for business, and it’s good for employees. Yet the more rigid we become in regulating the employee and employer relationship, the more difficult we make it for the two parties to work together to improve the retail experience. Now is the time for our state leaders to step back from AB 357, which has profound blind spots that not only harm California retailers, but also hurt retail employees.
Bill Dombrowski is president of the California Retailers Association.