Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday September 15th, 2015, 9:44am

Irregular Work Schedules Taking A Toll On Families, Experts Say

Unpredictable and non-standard job schedules can negatively impact the development of children and adolescents whose parent work such shifts, and policy changes are needed to improve workplace scheduling practices, experts argue in a recent issue brief published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Children of all ages whose parents have erratic or non-standard job schedules are at higher risk for adverse cognitive and behavioral outcomes, reads the brief, authored by University of New South Wales lecturer Leila Morsy and EPI research associate Richard Rothstein.

"When parents can't predict when they will or won't be working, their entire home lives are disrupted -- they engage less with their children in critical activities like reading and telling stories," Morsy said in a statement. "In many states, parents working irregular schedules even lose eligibility for child care subsidies."

The report defines non-standard work schedules as "non-daytime shifts in which most hours do not fall between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., when shifts rotate, or when schedules vary weekly or otherwise."

The authors cited research examining the impacts of parental work schedules on children's outcomes.

Among the findings, toddlers whose mothers work non-standard hours exhibit "worse sensory perception, memory, learning, problem solving, verbal communication and expressive language" than those whose mothers work standard hours, the brief says. Preschoolers also demonstrate "more negative behavior" like depression and anxiety when their mothers work non-standard hours.

Adolescents aged 13 and 14 whose parents work evening hours are also more likely to be depressed and take part in high-risk behavior like smoking and drinking than their peers whose parents work during the day.

Parents themselves are "more tired, anxious, irritable, and stressed" when they have non-standard work schedules, the brief adds.

Such work schedules are most prevalent among African-American workers, less-educated workers and young, low-income single mothers, according to the experts.

Overall, 74 percent of hourly paid employees aged 26 to 32 have work hours that fluctuate weekly, and 41 percent get up to a week notice of their weekly schedules. Among hourly-employed mothers with children younger than 13, nearly 70 percent have weekly fluctuations in hours.

"Just-in-time" scheduling practices, which involve employers using software to match worker shifts with customer traffic, are largely behind the rise of erratic schedules among hourly employees.

The report authors say policies should be implemented to discourage employers from using job schedules that can put families at a disadvantage. One recommendation involves having employers compensate employees for the work they do beyond eight hours in a workday or outside typical daytime hours. Employees should also get overtime premiums when they are required to work longer than their scheduled shift, regardless of how long they have already worked that day or during week, the experts argue.

"We need policies that deter employers from scheduling work in ways that impede parents' abilities to give their children stable home lives," Rothstein said. "Such policies will help parents to have more time and energy to devote to their children and will help their children to have the foundation they need to do well in school and life."

Meanwhile, other supporters of workplace scheduling reforms say state unemployment insurance (UI) programs should also be improved to better assist those who are jobless because of irregular work schedules.

recent report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) showed that most UI programs are applying traditional UI rules, which mainy accommodate workers with predictable and stable job schedules, to workers experiencing erratic schedules. NELP argues that the country's UI system needs an overhaul, as it has not caught up to the realities of today's labor market.

"For many working Americans -- particularly those in the growing part-time workforce -- unpredictable schedules take a serious toll on their lives," said Rick McHugh, a senior staff attorney at NELP.

The NELP report, McHugh added, "reveals how current unemployment insurance policy is failing workers who are jobless due to volatile work schedules."

"The evidence overwhelmingly shows that it is time for states to update their unemployment insurance rules to reflect the reality of increasingly erratic, unstable, and unpredictable job schedules."


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