“Flexible Hours” are Benefiting Employers and Hurting Employees

As-needed scheduling and hours for workers is becoming more popular with many businesses. Employers may give workers tentative shifts, but then contact them right before telling them they are no longer needed for said shift – if needs are already met. This “just-in-time” scheduling is being picked up by restaurants and retailers to keep from paying for more employees than needed and minimize their other costs. It makes sense initially: through this system employers won’t have to pay unneeded employees to sit around. However, Robert Reich of Guernica argues that this flexible kind of scheduling is not allowing workers to live their lives. The main issue is whether employees are being viewed as fixed or variable costs by businesses. When employees are viewed as fixed costs, like capital, payment may shrink overall but stay consistent for all workers. When employees are considered variable costs, employers don’t have to change their payroll as much as they simply can remove employees from their payroll altogether. Workers do not live their lives with variable costs, there are fixed costs of mortgages, rent, groceries, etc. These are monthly fixed costs that usually are met with monthly fixed payments. As Reich said “American workers can’t simultaneously be variable costs for businesses yet live in their own fixed costs worlds”.

Sending workers home (or telling them not to come at all) when they aren’t necessarily needed makes pay and hours inconsistent. There is no economic security for employees subjected to this type of scheduling. Usually state law requires businesses to pay employees who show up for work but are not needed – around 4 hours minimum wage. However, businesses are adopting software that allows them to see demand for work up to the minute. This means they get around the law by texting or emailing employees not to show up, minutes before their potential shifts. This type of scheduling falls under many different names (“just-in-time”, on-demand, etc.), but the impact remains the same. If businesses are going to put efficiency before fair treatment of works (and let’s face it, most probably would), there needs to be economic security and legal protection for workers that have to deal with uncertain hours and inconsistent pay.

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