Checking in on the San Francisco Retail Workers Bill of Rights | DCR Workforce Blog

Checking in on the San Francisco Retail Workers Bill of Rights

In November 2014 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed two new ordinances – together referred to as the Retail Workers Bill of Rights – aimed at protecting the rights of retail workers. The ordinances took effect in July 2015. As we enter the holiday shopping season, retailers are aggressively hiring contingent workers to augment their workforces. This will be the first true test of the impact of this new legislation.

The Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights aims to protect retail workers from erratic work schedules. The bill applies to chain retail employers operating in San Francisco with at least 40 worldwide locations, and 20 or more workers in the San Francisco metropolitan areas.  Examples of such establishments include chain and big box stores, financial service businesses, movie theaters, and chain and fast food restaurants.

What problem is being addressed? Throughout the retail sector, computer algorithms help to manage inventory; making it possible to toggle the supply of inventory to the last minute and to keep it just-in-time. These algorithms also manage their workers’ schedules to meet requirements just-in-time. When sales boom, they deploy more workers and when they slump, the worker is asked to leave for the day – or made to wait in hopes that the situation will improve. Of course, the worker is paid only for the hours actually worked.

However, scheduling people‘s work is not the same as moving furniture and electronics goods around. Some of the issues that have gained the attention of lawmakers with the retail sector’s treatment of its workers include:

  • 50% of part-time and 40% of full time retail workers get their work schedules a week (or less) in advance. Some are given their schedule only one day in advance of a shift.
  • Part time workers are willing to work more hours but end up not getting a minimum number of hours though they are on call for a specific shift. Most of the 7 million part-time workers in America would prefer to work more hours, given the opportunity.
  • Workers show up to work but are asked to go home, as the ‘footfalls’ (number of customers at the store) do not justify their deployment. Some are sent home, after only working a few hours. This means they will be unable to predict what they would earn at the end of a month. They also cannot take up other work, attend classes, learn new skills or do anything with their time – as they report to work and wait in readiness for a shift that may or may not materialize.
  • Of course, workers are rarely given the opportunity to request a particular shift. Caregiving duties become extremely difficult to manage as the worker scrambles around at the last minute, looking for baby sitters and eldercare.

A recent study conducted by the research and policy center Demos and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) indicates that across America, people of color in the retail industry often hold the lowest-paid positions and are given fewer hours. Thirty percent of women in the retail industry live in poverty or near poverty. San Francisco hopes that the Retail Workers Bill of Rights will begin to turn this around.

To stay compliant with the tenets of the bill, employers will need to review their processes and make sure that:

  1. They post the schedules of their workers at least two weeks in advance.
  2. Make sure that advance notices of any changes to existing schedules are provided two weeks before the change takes effect.
  3. Compensate for any scheduling changes with less than seven days’ notice by giving ‘predictability pay’ for half the number of hours scheduled to the workers affected by the change.
  4. Offer the same starting hourly wages to part-time and full-time workers when their jobs demand equal skills, effort and responsibility and are performed under similar working conditions. They will also be eligible for the same paid and unpaid time off; and be eligible for the same promotions unless they contravene existing seniority or merit systems.
  5. An employer has to pay workers for the scheduled shifts, even if they are canceled.
  6. The ordinance also makes it necessary for employers to offer any additional hours of work to current part time workers before hiring new employees, contractors or temporary workers.
  7. Employers are required to retain the records of their scheduling for three years, under the law.
  8. The legislation also covers property services contractors who provide security or janitorial services to retail businesses.

Employees covered by the Retail Workers Bill of Rights include everyone, including temporary and seasonal personnel, who in a particular week perform at least 2 hours of work and who qualifies for state minimum wage, or is scheduled for an on-call shift of at least 2 hours, regardless of whether the person actually reports for the on-call shift.

Non-compliance with the law invites the imposition of penalties from San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. Similar bills are under consideration in Minnesota, Milwaukee, New York and Santa Clara, as legislators take on the duty to fix workers’ issues.

We are monitoring the impact that these ordinances have on the use of seasonal contingent workers, and will report back to you in January. While this blog speaks to how the worker benefits from this legislation, we also want to report on this issue from the retailer’s perspective. Has it caused you to alter your seasonal hiring plans? How much administrative effort is involved in enforcing the ordinances? How often are you required to pay for hours not worked with situations require last-minute schedule changes? Let us know and we will publish your experiences.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.