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Seattle enacts secure scheduling law

    October 19, 2016

    In what may become statewide or nationwide issue, the Seattle City Council and Mayor Ed Murry have made Seattle the second major city in the United States to regulate how large retailers and food-service employers schedule their workers.  The first major city was San Francisco in 2014.  Other major cities are currently considering similar legislation, such as Washington D.C.

    Seattle’s new law takes effect in July, 2017, and applies to large retailers and quick-serve food and drink establishments with 500 or more workers, and to full-service restaurants with both 500 or more employees and 40 or more locations.  According to news reports, a primary motivation for the law was the working conditions at Starbucks.

    The City’s stated purpose of the law is to protect employees from erratic and variable work schedules and from not getting enough work hours.  Under the law, employers are required to post work schedules two weeks in advance, give good-faith estimates of hours an employee can expect to work, schedule at least 10 hours rest between opening and closing shifts, give available hours to existing part-time employees before hiring new workers, and pay additional “predictability pay” when employers make changes to the posted schedule.  According to the City of Seattle webpage, the law’s key provisions are as follows:

    ·        Employers must give employees their schedules 14 days in advance.  If an employer adds hours, the employee is paid for one additional hour of “predictability pay”

    ·        If an employee is scheduled for a shift and sent home early, the employee is paid for half of the hours not worked

    ·        A good faith estimate of workers’ hours are to be provided upon hire

    ·        Employees have a right to decline any shift added to their schedule within the two week notice period without fear of retaliation from their employer

    ·        If the gap between a closing and opening shift is less than 10 hours, an employee is entitled to be paid time-and-a-half for the difference (addressing so-called “clopenings”)

    ·        The “access to hours” measure requires that employers give notice and offer hours to qualified current employees of new, additional hours available before hiring additional staff.

    ·        On-call protections measure, whereby employees will receive half-time pay for any shift they are on-call and do not get called into work


    Seattle’s new law follows the City’s 2014 law increasing Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.  According to Councilmember M. Lorena Gonzalez, “the promise of a $15 minimum wage falls flat when you’re unable to work more than 10 hours a week … and when you’re unable to know how many hours you’re going to work next week.”

    Opponents of the City’s new scheduling law argue the City is applying one-size fits all legislation onto small businesses. The law applies to franchisees of major chains (e.g. subway), who may own only one store, but are required to comply with the law intended to target major chains, such as Starbucks, with no independently owned franchisee stores.  And, according to the Washington Retail Association’s CEO Jan Teague, “The city is obviously trying to do away with part-time work.”   Other opponents worry that the City’s new law is another step in the City’s expansion of labor laws that harm business and could prevent Seattle for fostering future business growth and innovation, as business people leave the City, pushed out by too much regulation and an inability to be flexible with their proposed business models.

    Another consideration is the cost of enforcement of the new law.  Enforcement will fall on the City’s Office of Labor Standards.   According to the Office’s Director, Dylan Orr, “The mayor’s proposal doubles the size of our office …  This was taken into account in that proposal, so I anticipate we’ll be able to do a lot with that. I mean, until we get there, it’s hard to know and if we need more resources down the line, obviously we’re going to ask for those resources. But I’m excited about the next iteration of our office.”

    Brian A. Walker helps businesses and individuals in employment, business, and real estate related litigation and transactions from the Wenatchee office of Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC. You can reach Brian at or at (509) 663-1954.