CHICAGO - Starting Wednesday, many Chicago employers will be required to give employees advance notice of their schedules and pay a premium for last-minute changes.
The city's "fair workweek" law is a victory for worker advocates who say unpredictable schedules, and uneven paychecks, make it hard to plan for child care, hold down a second job or pay bills.
It take effect as businesses grapple with numerous pressures wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, including uncertain consumer demand. Trade groups pushed unsuccessfully for the city to delay implementation of the law to give employers more time to prepare.
Who is covered by the law
While other cities, and some states, have adopted legislation to stabilize workers' schedules, Chicago's law affects the most industries. It covers employees who work in heath care and manufacturing as well as in restaurants, retail, hotels, warehouses and building services.
Only employees who make less than $26 an hour or $50,000 a year are covered by the protections.
The law applies to businesses with 100 or more employees, to nonprofits with more than 250 employees, to restaurants with at least 30 locations and 250 employees globally, and to franchisees with four or more locations.
There are exemptions for employees who work at ticketed events. Workplaces with collective bargaining agreements are exempt as long as the ordinance is explicitly waived in their contracts.
What the law requires
Employers will have to give workers at least 10 days' advance notice of their schedules. That will grow to a minimum of 14 days' notice on July 1, 2022.
If an employer changes a worker's schedule with less notice, it must give the worker an hour of "predictability pay" at the regular wage rate. If an employer cancels or reduces hours within 24 hours of the start of a previously scheduled shift, it has to pay workers half of what they would have made had they worked.
The ordinance does not prevent workers from trading shifts or requesting changes to their schedule. Employers can also change an employee's hours without penalty when it is mutually agreed upon in writing.
The ordinance includes a "right to rest" provision that gives employees the right to decline work hours that start less than 10 hours after the end of a shift. If an employer doesn't get written consent from workers willing to work such shifts, it has to pay them time and a quarter.
The law also requires that employers offer existing part-time workers extra hours before hiring new people, meant to address underemployment that makes it hard for low-wage workers to make ends meet. If part-time workers decline the extra hours, employers must offer those hours to temporary or seasonal workers before hiring people.
Violations carry fines of $300 to $500 per offense. The law is enforced by the newly created Office of Labor Standards, which also enforces the city's minimum wage and paid sick leave laws.
Why a delay was sought
Trade associations representing affected businesses asked the city in March to delay implementation of the ordinance by six months, as the pandemic disrupted their ability to properly prepare, said Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
Many businesses must put in place electronic scheduling systems to keep track of workers' hours, but some were forced to close and haven't been able to train managers on the systems, she said.
As businesses start to reopen, uncertainty remains about what kind of staffing will be needed given continued consumer wariness and the possibility that workers, or someone they live with, will fall ill, she said.
Bob Reiter, executive director of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said concerns about electronic scheduling systems are overblown because businesses will bring workers back slowly.
"At the end of the day, if you schedule your people fairly and you're a good employer, the scheduling law just shouldn't add any cost to your plate," Reiter said.
The city moved forward as planned with July 1 implementation of the ordinance, which was approved a year ago with strong backing by Mayor Lori Lightfoot after many months of negotiations.
The scheduling law comes as Chicago's minimum wage, now $13 an hour, goes up on Wednesday, to $14 for companies with more than 20 employees and $13.50 for smaller employers. The city also recently adopted an ordinance prohibiting employers from retaliating against workers for staying home while sick or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
How a pandemic affects the law
The law exempts schedule changes that are a result of a pandemic. In its rule-making, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection said it will consider a change "to be 'because' of the pandemic only when the pandemic causes the Employer to materially change its operating hours, operating plan, or the goods or services provided by the Employer, which results in the Work Schedule 1/4 u202fchange."
In a nod to business concerns, the city said workers can't sue their bosses for violating the Fair Workweek ordinance until Jan. 1, pushing that provision of the ordinance off for six months.
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