Unstable work schedules impact at least 17 percent of the U.S. workforce, with low-wage workers facing irregular shift times the most.
That's according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington, D.C. think tank. The report, "Irregular Work Scheduling and its Consequences," is based on General Social Survey data.
Ten percent of U.S. workers have "irregular and on-call work shift times," combined with another 7 percent "who work split or rotating shifts," according to the research.
Low-wage workers are among the most prone to having unstable schedules, which are associated with longer average hourly workweeks in some occupations. Employees in low-wage industries often have little control over their schedules, the findings showed.
According to the report, irregular scheduling is most common in the following industries: retail trade; finance, insurance, real estate; business, repair services; personal services; entertainment, recreation; and agriculture.
"With the rise of advanced scheduling software that matches staffing with hour-by-hour customer demand, we have started to see policymakers and advocates paying greater attention to the difficulties created by irregular and unpredictable work schedules," report author and EPI research associate Lonnie Golden said in a statement. "This study is unique in that it uses nationally representative data of all workers to examine how workers dealing with unstable schedules fare in contrast to other workers, especially in terms of what the adverse consequences may be."
Workers with unpredictable or variable schedules are more likely to experience work-family conflicts than those with stable work shifts, the report found. About 26 percent of workers with irregular or on-call shift times and 19 percent of employees with split or rotating shifts reported having work-family conflicts "often," compared to less than 11 percent of workers with stable schedules.
Worker advocates say unstable schedules are especially harmful to working single mothers, because they make child care arrangements particularly stressful. Work-related stress, the report adds, tends to be more common among workers with unpredictable or on-call schedules than those with variable or rotating shifts.
The report's findings "underscore the need to adopt preventative public policy measures" to address the issue of irregular work scheduling, argues Golden.
Some employers have voluntarily adopted fair scheduling standards.
Only the state of Vermont and a few U.S. cities have put laws on the books that give workers the right to request flexible schedules. There is, however, fair scheduling legislation pending in several states, including Illinois.
The Illinois bill is HB 3554, introducted this legislative session by State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago). It would grant employees the right to request changes from their employers as it relates to their conditions of employment, including work hours and schedules. Employers and employees would have to engage in a "good faith interactive process" to determine whether requested changes could be granted. If an employee's request is denied, the employer would be required to state the reason for the denial and also consider "alternatives to the proposed change that might meet the employee's needs."
The bill passed out of the House Labor and Commerce Committee on March 25.
As for federal-level work schedule flexibility legislation, a Democrat-led effort to advance the Schedules That Work Act of 2014 fizzled in the last Congress.
The federal legislation, which has yet to be introduced in the current 114th Congress, would grant employees the right to request a predictable work schedule without retaliation from employers. Among other provisions, the legislation would require two weeks of advance notice if a retail, food service or cleaning employee's schedule is set to change.