Who would have thought that pay equity could be achieved simply with a predictable work schedule? That appears to be the solution imposed in my nearest U.S. major metropolitan center. The Emerald City’s latest venture into HR regulation rests on the concept that equity requires a stable work schedule.
The "just in time" scheduling protocols that revolutionized modern manufacturing decades ago now have been banned in Seattle for many employers. Well, not "banned," exactly ... those practices were merely singled out for punitive negative reinforcement (a frequently ignored component of compensation programs). Seattle's "secure scheduling law" compels retailers and fast-food companies with 500 employees globally to
- compensate workers with "predictability pay" when they're scheduled but don't get called into work or are sent home early;
- provide a minimum 10 hours rest between open and closing shifts;
- offer hours to existing employees before hiring new staff; and
- face a fine of $500 per aggrieved worker for the first violation, with subsequent violations costing more.
The new regulation was tailored to exclude and protect significant local shops. It also strengthens the unions that supported the city rule; exceptions are made for organizations with acceptable collective bargaining agreements. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Funny, how the willingness to pass laws regulating other people’s behaviors seems grow in direct proportion to the distance from the costs incurred for compliance. This is typical for Seattle, which was quick to phase in a $15 hourly minimum wage, mandate sick leave for many companies and offer paid parental leave for city workers. Generous provisions for voter enrichment initiatives forcibly funded by private enterprise seem popular in rich cities. San Francisco did this two years ago, while D.C. and San Jose also are considering it now.
The Seattle City Council decided workers should not be compelled to suffer erratic schedules and fluctuating hours they claim make it difficult for people to juggle child care, school or other jobs, to count on stable income or to plan for the future. Consequently, work-life balance is no longer a matter of choice but is now compulsory in Seattle, whose Mayor says this addresses income inequality.
Makes some sense to compare this to pay equity issues. "Free choice" is also usually similarly cited by comparable worth opponents to justify the sex-based discounted pay levels in occupations dominated by women and other protected classes who freely chose those jobs. If government forbids employers to continue systemic discrimination by applying supposedly "neutral" conditions that perpetuate adverse economic impacts on protected classes, most pay discrimination would disappear.
Future outcomes in Seattle remain unclear. The local Chamber of Commerce said, “the business community is frustrated that there’s some nefarious desire to assume that business practices are incongruent with best practices for their employees.” One city council member minimized the fuss because the businesses affected by this are not small mom & pops. But why should that make a difference? I sincerely don't understand why big employers are excoriated and singled out for punitive measures while tiny shops and unionized organizations are sanctified and exempted without explanation. Stuff like this demonstrates why even businesses owned by civic-minded retirees and union pension funds leave town or move offshore to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. Community organizers and special interest groups funded by voluntary contributors often don't realize that corporate officers face discharge or lawsuits if they make deliberate choices that reduce their owners' return on investment.
Even the ultra-liberal Washington D.C. Economic Policy Institute says Seattle is getting a reputation as a city that treats businesses as a burden to be tolerated. The group says there will be unintended consequences, as employers worried about penalties will hire fewer part-time workers (most of whom don't want full-time jobs) and will be less flexible with last-minute changes requested by workers. EPI also admits that the principal reason people take those jobs covered by the new Seattle law is a desire to keep their lives flexible.
Flexible such as agile and nimble or flexible such as drastically contorted and tied up into a pretzel shape, I wonder? What is your guess?
E. James (Jim) Brennan is an independent compensation advisor with extensive total rewards experience. After corporate HR and consulting roles in most industries, he was Senior Associate of pay surveyor ERI before returning to consulting in 2015. A prolific writer (author of the Performance Management Workbook), speaker and frequent expert witness, Jim testified in many reasonable executive compensation court cases. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review.
Image "Barista" by Nurit Pazner, courtesy of Creative Commons