Press Release

CSS Report: Unpredictable Scheduling Disproportionately Harms Low-income Workers

More than half the working poor report receiving less than two weeks’ notice; a quarter say they receive less than 24 hour’s notice

1 in 3 low-income workers with less than two weeks’ notice report that it leads to serious problems managing work and family responsibilities


A new report released today by the Community Service Society (CSS) documents how unfair scheduling practices disproportionately impacts low-income workers who are more likely to receive limited advance notice from their employers about work schedules. The problems that result from short notice are further compounded by work hours that fluctuate from week to week making it difficult for workers to secure a stable job schedule or manage responsibilities outside of work.

Of the report’s major findings, more than half of the city’s working poor (57 percent) are given their work schedules less than two weeks in advance. Twenty-seven percent receive less than 24 hours’ notice. Unpredictable: How Unpredictable Schedules Keep Low-Income New Yorkers from Getting Ahead, provides data illustrating the scope of the problem, particularly in the restaurant and retail industries where 82 percent of restaurant workers, and half of all retail workers, report receiving less than two weeks’ notice of their schedules.

While short notice of work schedules has become a fairly common labor practice, low-income workers are hit harder by it than moderate-to-higher income families. Among low-income workers those with short advance notice of schedule changes and unstable hours experience much greater levels of economic hardships than low-wage workers with more stable schedules. 

The report also found that the combination of fluctuating hours and limited advance notice made it harder for low-wage workers—especially women and parents—to keep their jobs, pay their bills and move ahead economically. Twenty-six percent of low-income workers receiving less than two weeks’ notice reported falling behind on their rent or mortgage payments compared to 16 percent for low-income workers with more advance notice. Twenty-five percent of those with short notice reported being unable to afford bus and subway fares.

Earlier this month a package of bills aimed at improving scheduling practices affecting some 65,000 hourly employees in the fast food industry were introduced in the New York City Council. Specifically, the “Fair Work Week for NYC” legislation, which has the support of Mayor de Blasio, labor unions and advocates, seeks to address such problems as short notice of schedule changes, frequently changing hours, and “clopenings” where workers are required to close their store and return to open it with inadequate time between shifts or compensation.  The proposed legislation also includes a bill banning the practice of on-call scheduling in the retail industry and a measure that would give all employees the right to request flexible work arrangements.

Under the proposed legislation fast food restaurant employers are required to set schedules for their workers at least two weeks in advance and post them in visible locations. Employees would be eligible for extra compensation if their hours are changed on short notice. One of the bills requires employers to offer additional shifts first to current employees instead of hiring new staff. 

“Our research shows how unpredictable scheduling has become widespread in low-wage industries, with a third of retail workers and 40 percent of restaurant workers reporting that the number of hours their employer gives them varies somewhat or a great deal from week to week,” said CSS President and CEO David R. Jones. “As the City Council considers legislative remedies in the area of work schedules, we hope data from the report proves helpful in better understanding how these practices affect workers, impact their lives and their financial stability.”

“Without a stable work schedule, who can build a stable life?" said Council Member Brad Lander, who is sponsoring some of the scheduling bills. "I want to thank CSS for their work on this study which demonstrates how retail and restaurant employers’ unfair scheduling practices disproportionately impacts low-income New Yorkers. New Yorkers trying to pay the rent and feed their families should not be subject to the whims of shift cancellations and last minute changes to their hours. I'm proud that the New York City Council is helping restaurant and retail workers achieve a fair work week – with two-weeks advance notice and a pathway to full-time hours – and making sure that all workers can request schedule flexibility for caregiving, schools, and the realities of their lives.”  

If enacted, the proposed protections would go a long way toward improving the economic stability of many low-wage workers. Yet an obvious question raised by the legislation is whether improving scheduling practices for workers will unnecessarily burden employers who need flexibility in staffing.

The author of the report, CSS Senior Economist Harold Stolper, believes one advantage of the laws that protect workers against abusive practices is that they prevent the good employers from being undercut by bad ones who are willing to subject their employees to unfair work conditions.

“We shouldn’t be protecting businesses that don’t allow their employees to work a stable schedule,” said Stolper, who points out that non-unionized low-wage workers typically lack the bargaining power to secure more favorable schedules.But perhaps the most troubling finding in the report is that parents tend to have more unpredictable schedules, and that this leads to greater hardship rates for families with children. It shows that unpredictable schedules isn't just a problem facing young workers.”

Unpredictable draws on findings from CSS’s annual Unheard Third survey. The survey, which is done in collaboration with Lake Research Partners, was conducted from July 5 to August 10, 2016 and sampled a total of 1,717 New York City residents via cell phone and landline. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points for the low-income component and +/- 4.0 percentage points for the moderate and higher income sample. 


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