The law, which took effect Saturday, is intended to help retail and food-service workers who say they suffer from erratic and unpredictable work schedules. Some employers now face a slew of new requirements for how they schedule, consult and compensate employees.

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In preparation for Seattle’s “secure scheduling” law, which went into effect Saturday, Ivar’s has been training its managers, creating a guidebook, and revamping its accounting and planning systems to make sure they comply with the law. It’s even bought new software.

The software allows Ivar’s to send out mass notifications to employees if, say, a shift suddenly becomes available, and it keeps records of all responses in the cloud.

“That’s the biggest issue that many employers had — documentation,” said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s Restaurants. “You have to keep track of every person for every shift and every offer made” and keep those records for three years.

Seattle’s Secure Scheduling Law

Applies to

Retail, food services or drinking establishments in Seattle with 500 or more employees worldwide

Full-service restaurants in Seattle with 500 or more worldwide employees and 40 or more full-service locations worldwide

Requirements include

Good-faith estimate: Provide each hourly employee with written forecast of median hours per workweek

Right to request input into work schedule: Before the work schedule is posted, employer must grant schedule requests related to a major life event such as an employee’s transportation, housing, other jobs, caregiving, serious health conditions.

Advance notice: Give hourly employees their schedules 14 days in advance

Right to rest: Employer pays time-and-a-half for any hours worked between closing and opening (clopening) shifts that are separated by less than 10 hours

Premium pay: After the schedule is posted, when an employer subtracts hours, employee is paid for half of the hours not worked. When an employer adds hours, employee is paid for one additional hour.


More information:

Source: City of Seattle

“Doing it through email or spreadsheet — that’s just a nightmare,” he said.

Though the software the company ended up choosing — AlertMedia — was not a major expense for Ivar’s, it did require weeks of analysis by Ivar’s staff to identify potential solutions and vet them, he said.

Donegan said he wonders how other companies, especially those just big enough to fall under the law, are dealing with the many requirements.

The law, passed by the Seattle City Council last September, is intended to help retail and food-service workers who say they suffer from erratic and unpredictable work schedules.

It was sparked in part by a New York Times story, about how scheduling software was causing chaos in many workers’ lives, that prominently featured a Starbucks barista. (Starbucks declined to comment for this story other than to point to a company post about its current scheduling practices.)

Workers at other companies subsequently shared their stories, including getting notice of their work schedules only one day in advance, and getting far fewer hours than they requested or expected.

Other retailers have come under fire for their on-call scheduling practices.

But employer groups say there are still many questions about the measure, one of the first of its kind.

“The ordinance itself is really complex and it’s going to affect a lot of members,” said Jillian Henze, spokeswoman for the Washington Hospitality Association, which includes the Seattle Restaurant Alliance. “These changes are totally different than how they’d been operating previously.”

The law applies to large retailers and quick-serve food and drink establishments with 500 or more workers, and to full-service restaurants with both 500-plus employees and 40 or more locations.

Employers including Starbucks, Safeway, QFC, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Costco, REI, Red Robin, IHOP, McDonald’s, Subway, and Denny’s are examples of companies that would be covered, according to city staffers.

Of Ivar’s current 1,400 employees statewide, about 250 fall under the law — those who work at Ivar’s five seafood bars, four Kidd Valleys and its locations in three sports stadiums in Seattle. Ivar’s full-service restaurants are exempt.

Employers would be required to give good-faith estimates of hours an employee can expect to work; post work schedules 14 days in advance; provide at least 10 hours rest between opening and closing shifts or pay extra if the rest time is shorter; offer available hours to existing employees before hiring new workers; and pay additional “premium pay” when employers make changes to the posted schedule.

There are exceptions to the “premium pay” requirement, including for employee-initiated shift swaps or shift coverage, or if an employer fills an unexpectedly open shift by using “mass communications” such as text or email to ask workers if they can fill the shift.

The measure also requires employers to keep records for three years, documenting everything from responses to employee requests for schedule changes to good-faith estimates.

Unionized workers could negotiate an alternative for secure scheduling through collective bargaining — a provision that supporters say encourages employers and employees to negotiate a deal that could be more beneficial to both, and that detractors see as a ploy by unions to encourage companies to unionize rather than deal with onerous regulations.

Penalties under the law include a fine of up to $500 per aggrieved worker for the first violation. The amount goes up for subsequent violations.

John Engber, lobbyist with the Washington Retail Association, said it won’t be simple to comply.

“You could have a 19-year-old manager of an Orange Julius stand having to understand how this ordinance works and communicate with employees about how the hours become available,” he said.

The city acknowledges there’s a learning curve involved.

The city’s Office of Labor Standards, as well as business organizations, have been holding workshops, webinars and on-site trainings. The Washington Hospitality Association has a “tool kit” for employers, while the city’s Office of Labor Standards has a poster and other resources.

The first six months after the law takes effect — from July through December — will be regarded as a “soft launch” during which the city will investigate complaints and obtain remedies for employees, but will not impose penalties or fines on employers, unless a violation is egregious.

An example of an egregious violation would be if an employer retaliates when an employee speaks up about not getting premium pay that they are owed, said Karina Bull, senior policy analyst with the labor office.

After the six months, the education and outreach efforts will continue, with more training and resources for employers and employees, including templates for topics such as providing good-faith estimates of hours, and work schedules, according to Bull.

The city has increased the budget for the labor standards office, which plans to have 10 investigators in place by the end of the year, up from four last year.

Some employers, meanwhile, aren’t expecting the ordinance to be too onerous.

Only one Costco location — at Fourth Avenue South — is affected. And the company already practices some of the requirements of the new law, such as posting schedules two weeks in advance throughout its U.S. stores, said Patrick Callans, its senior vice president of human resources and risk management.

As for other requirements, such as the “good-faith estimate” and “premium pay” for schedule changes, “the management staff of our Seattle location is trained on what the ordinance requires and has appropriate information, forms and notices to allow compliance,” he said.

At REI, sales associate Ingrid Johnson isn’t sure how the new law would affect her job. Following an outcry by workers, REI last October started giving good-faith estimates of hours, and getting schedules to workers 16 days in advance.

But the ordinance is likely a good thing for workers, said Johnson: Those new scheduling practices by REI make it easier for her to pick up baby-sitting and landscaping jobs, and also to fit in a social life.

“It’s a great deal less precarious than it was a year ago,” Johnson said.