At fresh&co, employees can tell you what they’ll be doing two weeks from now. The New York City fast casual, which specializes in organic and seasonal sandwiches and salads, makes its work schedules available two to four weeks ahead of time. While advanced and predictable schedules have long been considered best practice in the industry, there are now legal reasons for fresh&co to implement the standard. Like all New York City restaurants, in November 2017 it became subject to the Fair Workweek law.
“Any place that has wage increases should expect fair scheduling legislation,” says David Cantu, cofounder and chief customer officer at HotSchedules, which provides cloud-based tools for creating and managing worker schedules. “It’s the new normal.”
In addition to New York City, these laws have taken effect in Seattle; San Francisco; Emeryville, California; and Washington, D.C. Chicago is considering a law, and experts predict Los Angeles will see legislation introduced this year. In the relatively near future, we can expect statewide regulations in New York, California, and possibly New Jersey, Cantu says.
Fair workweek laws, also called predictive scheduling laws, require employers to post staff schedules a specified amount of time in advance—typically two weeks, depending on the laws, which vary by location—and to allow a certain number of hours between shifts. If employers violate the laws, they must pay the affected employee at a premium rate. Other stipulations might include rules about alerting employees that extra shifts are available.
These standards were created to make it easier for part-time hourly workers to plan their personal lives around their work, Cantu says. On-call shifts, ever-altering schedules, retaliation for being unable to comply with last-minute schedule changes, and lack of advance notice can cause difficulties managing school, work, childcare, or transportation, as well as earnings.
The laws can cause problems for restaurants operating on very thin margins that may not be able to afford premium pay, and brands such as sports bars that have a very hard time predicting business, Cantu says. Compliance can also be challenging because operators may need to adopt a new vision of what scheduling practices look like.
Stores near cities with such laws may feel an impact because employees will expect the fair workweek standards. That’s the case for Mooyah, a better-burger concept with locations throughout the country, including the suburbs of New York and San Francisco. Mooyah has made predictive scheduling software available to its franchisees regardless of location, says Mooyah president and COO Michael Mabry. “I think fair and predictive schedules and wages are a reasonable ask, no matter the level of employee,” he says.
Despite the challenges presented by the law, fresh&co CEO and cofounder George Tenedios says the brand’s scheduling practices now more closely align with need. This will be especially important when New York City’s minimum wage increases to $15 per hour in 2019. “The law is a blessing in disguise,” he says.
David Goldstein, CEO of California-based Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill, also appreciates these rules. The fast casual will finish transitioning to predictive scheduling by the end of the year. Sharky’s also has locations outside of Portland, Oregon, and in Las Vegas. Because Oregon will soon be under legal mandate, the brand already schedules workers at that store a month out.
“Providing proper compensation and scheduling has to be the baseline so you can recruit talent and have a culture that supports it,” Goldstein says. “And the scheduling software is better than ever. It allows us to have really good information that is critical to our success.”
Cantu recommends beginning the transition to predictive scheduling about a year before a law will go into effect. After all, it’s an involved process that includes finding software, teaching managers how to use it, re-evaluating training practices for new hires, and possibly adding training across the board.
Under the laws, trainers’ schedules might be less flexible, which could impact a new employee’s start date, Goldstein says. Operators may want to simplify training procedures so they take less time and are easier to arrange.
Fresh&co and Sharky’s advocate for cross-training all employees, including managers.
“Make sure everyone can do everything so that they can move around if someone calls in,” Tenedios says. “Our [general managers] can cut vegetables and work the POS. That type of training was implemented a few years back, and it has been our saving grace.”
Fresh&co has leveraged that cross-training to develop a new role specifically designed to combat law violations: the field manager. These salaried employees go from store to store based on last-minute staffing needs to prevent situations wherein staffers have to come in and be paid at a premium rate.
Increased employee retention can also offset costs associated with the premium pay. “We see that brands with high retention post schedules one month in advance,” Cantu says. “They care about their team members making plans, and they allow the flexibility to trade or swap shifts. That’s best practice.”
As those best practices become laws, Sharky’s, fresh&co, and Mooyah are confident that they can continue to find benefits within them, from retention to morale to a better understanding of how external factors impact profits.
“The rules challenge us to balance our team, our guests, and our profit in very innovative ways,” Goldstein says. “And innovation is required to succeed.”