Q: A friend of my college-age daughter is living with us. This kid works like a demon trying to save money for college. Just now she was in tears because her retail employer has once again scheduled her to work nine consecutive days. Some days are split shifts: She has to be there from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and then come back from 3 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. It doesn’t help that she’s recovering from oral surgery. What rights does she have?

A: Under current U.S. law, not many. Unpredictable, erratic work schedules are a common complaint against retail and food-service employers who struggle to arrange employee shifts to match client demand without incurring overtime or pushing part-time workers into full-time status. The system fosters uncertainty and anxiety in an already marginalized sector of the workforce, many of whom are juggling multiple jobs, school and family responsibilities.

Your young tenant may have some recourse if she lives in one of the growing number of states or cities (including Seattle) that have instituted “fair workweek” laws requiring employers to provide ample notice of schedules and adequate rest time between shifts. (Some members of Congress — including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — have announced plans to reintroduce a bill, the Schedules That Work Act, to implement fair-workweek laws at the federal level.) Likewise, an increasing number of localities require employers to offer paid sick-leave days to workers so they can recover from illness or medical procedures without jeopardizing their income or jobs.

If she is lucky enough to live in an area that offers any of these protections, she can file a complaint with the state or local labor board. Edgar Ndjatou, executive director of employee advocacy group Workplace Fairness, advises that she and all workers keep their own personal records of hours worked, in case their employers’ record-keeping is as erratic as their scheduling.

Q: I am 80 and come from Venezuela. My concern for human rights, highly sensitized by events in my country, makes me wonder why in the United States, cashiers in stores, supermarkets, etc., need to be standing up. It seems to me that offering these workers a chair would improve their work conditions and prevent leg, feet and back problems.

A: It seems to me that you are right. Even as office workers are embracing the concept of standing desks to improve health and posture, their retail counterparts who spend all day on their feet can tell you that too much standing is as detrimental to health as too little.

Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. (Courtesy of The Washington Post)
Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. (Courtesy of The Washington Post)