Seattle passes secure scheduling law: is your city next?

10/25/16 7:00 AM Natalie Appleton

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While worker advocates were celebrating Sept. 19 as Seattle became the second US city to pass a law that regulates how large restaurants and food chains schedule staff, restaurant owners in this Washington city—and beyond—were crunching numbers and asking a single question: Now how are we going to pull this off?

According to The Seattle Times, the city’s Secure Scheduling Ordinance, expected to take effect in July 2017, “…will apply 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.” 

So, if you’re a Seattle eatery with less than 500 staff, the rules won’t apply to you…yet.

With activists quick to ensure retail and food workers receive predictable rather than erratic hours, the scope of the law could change down the road.

The details behind Seattle’s secure scheduling law

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When the law takes effect, employers at qualifying establishments will have to:

  • Post schedules two weeks in advance
  • Provide 10 hours’ rest between opening and closing shifts
  • Give extra hours to existing part-time staff before new part-time staff can be hired
  • Shell out “predictability pay” for making changes to posted schedules 

Before an employee is hired, employers have to give “good faith estimates” of expected hours. Once the law takes effect, employers have to keep three years records of just about everything related to scheduling—from those good faith estimates to responses to schedule change requests by employees.

The legislation comes on the heels of Seattle’s controversial $15 minimum wage laws. According to The Seattle Times, in a news conference before the council meeting, Councillor M. Lorena González said, “…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.” 

And yet, leading into the discussion about worker schedules several months ago, industry and city reports showed food workers were largely content with their schedules.  

According to Restaurant Hospitality, the Seattle Restaurant Association sponsored a June survey that quizzed 700 workers and found “…a strong majority of restaurant workers already have the scheduling transparency and number of hours they want.” The article says the survey also found:  

  • 86 per cent of Seattle’s restaurant workers are proud to work in the industry
  • 76 per cent work the number of hours they want
  • 89 per cent agree they can talk to their manager and give input about their work environment, number of hours, and scheduling needs”

Seattle’s not alone

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In 2015, San Francisco became the first city to enact a predictable scheduling law.

Formally known as the San Francisco Predictable Scheduling and Fair Treatment for Formula Retail Employees Ordinance, this legislation is also aimed at part-time workers of “chain” stores.

In San Francisco, that means stores with 11 or more locations worldwide, and businesses that employ 20 or more people in the city of San Francisco and have 20 or more locations worldwide.

So the scope of this California city’s legislation could affect more smaller/national shops based in San Francisco compared to the Seattle legislation.

Included in the nine major components of the legislation are:

  • Initial notification of work schedules and hours upon hiring
  • Schedules posted at least two weeks in advance
  • Compensation for schedule changes and on-call shifts

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Since San Francisco, a whole host of states have followed suit with some form of predictable scheduling legislation: Connecticut, California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota and Oregon.

According the legal community: “It has gained substantial traction nationwide, and is poised to become the next big legislative trend in the employment sector.” (, qtd in Restaurant Hospitality)

What the scheduling law means for restaurants


When Seattle’s ‘fair scheduling’ legislation was being hustled through city council meetings, Restaurant Hospitality writer Bob Krummert said if the ordinance went through, “…restaurant owners and managers there—and perhaps soon, elsewhere–will face a daunting task.

They’ll have to figure out how to optimize their restaurant’s labor costs and maintain its food and service standards while addressing the scheduling wants and needs of some of its workers—and think it all up two weeks in advance.”

Now, getting back to that question of how you’ll pull it off:

1. Your new schedules need to be precise & you need to be on top of staff preferences and availability

If your ‘good faith estimate’ for a team member was 15 hours a week, you need to make sure they get those 15 hours a week.

Restaurant scheduling software that acts a filing cabinet to create profiles for each team member—which days and times they can work—and then alerts you when shifts conflict with availability, will save you heaps of time and headaches. 

2. Your schedules need to be done well in advance

Two weeks is the rule for both San Francisco and Seattle, but you might do well to have it up three or four weeks ahead to make any minor changes ahead of that.

If you’re using software that creates the perfect schedule in minutes (while minding employee availability, hour targets and labor forecasting), you’ll set yourself up for success to not just do this on time, but do it well.

3. You need to have strong outlooks for the year

Only accessible year-over-year and month-over-month sales and labor reports will give you the numbers you need to accurately tell a new hire: Yes, we need someone for 10 hours a week over the summer.

4. You need to control labor costs even more intensely

People call in sick.

A storm hits.

Orders come in late.

There will be times when you’ll need to make last-minute changes to the schedule, but now that you have to provide ‘predictability pay’ for short notice schedule changes, it’s more important than ever to be able to set realistic labor cost targets based on the past, and then have software sitting on your shoulder to remind you, every week, how you’re faring against those projections.

5. You need to be on top of records

These laws stipulate operators need to keep track of records—including responses to employee time-off requests—for up to three years. Restaurant scheduling software that facilitates and logs time-off requests will save you an incredible amount of time as you meet this guideline.

6. Staff need to be able to communicate easily

Remember staff get to keep their flexibility: The chance to pick up and swap shifts if and when they want.

Mobile-friendly restaurant scheduling software with staff communication capabilities allow staff to quickly and easily see if someone can take their shift. This could be a proactive way to handle last-minute changes and reduce ‘predictability pay.’

Even if your state or your restaurant isn’t yet facing scheduling legislation, scheduling software allows you to offer ‘employee centered scheduling’—and in a competitive restaurant labor market, this could become a differentiator.

And then when the legislation rolls in, with your scheduling software already saving you time and money, you’ll be ahead of the game!

Find yourself suddenly in the market for restaurant scheduling software?  Download a copy of our scheduling software buyer's guide.  It's a handy tool that will help you evaluate your options and make an informed decision quickly and easily.  


Topics: Restaurant Scheduling