L.A. County passes ‘fair workweek’ policy for retail workers

Workers at big retail and grocery stores in unincorporated L.A. County can retain a little more control over their schedules — and rely a little less on managers’ whims — starting next summer.

On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to require that employers give those workers their schedules two weeks in advance, compensate them for last-minute schedule changes and space out their shifts by at least 10 hours.

The ordinance, which will go into effect July 2025, applies to any retailer and grocer in unincorporated L.A. County with 300 or more employees nationwide.

The county has estimated that the ordinance would affect about 200 businesses, many of them large chains, and up to 6,000 workers. Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who spearheaded the policy, said Tuesday’s vote would benefit both.

“It is a win for retailers committed to a work environment that gives them a competitive edge and for our retail workers who deserve the dignity of a predictable schedule so they can plan for childcare, school and other life obligations,” she said.

The policy closely mirrors the “fair work week” ordinance the City of Los Angeles passed in 2022.

Like the city’s version, the county’s policy requires that retailers provide “predictability pay” if they change a worker’s schedule last-minute and get employee’s approval before assigning them so-called “clopening” shifts — a closing shift followed immediately by an opening shift the next day. The ordinance also bars an employer from retaliating against an employee who reports violations.

Several business and trade groups argued that the policy needlessly complicates the delicate art of scheduling staff. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce said it would hamper businesses already struggling to compete against e-commerce companies, saddling them with fines in the tens of thousands of dollars. The California Grocers Association argued it would create needless bureaucracy, making eleventh-hour staffing changes “extremely challenging.”

Both groups said they wished the policy included a grace period for a store to solve “honest clerical mistakes” without getting penalized.

“Scheduling flexibility is one of the industry perks that many enjoy about working in grocery stores, yet this ordinance will make schedule changes, especially within a week of a shift, nearly impossible,” wrote Nate Rose, a spokesperson for the grocers association. “Taken together, its pay penalty requirements and the likely increase in needless lawsuits, will only lead to higher costs at the grocery store for Los Angeles shoppers.”

The county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs would be responsible for enforcing the policy. Each violation comes with a penalty of $500 to $1000.

Janna Shadduck-Hernández, project director at the UCLA Labor Center, said she believes the policy will bring stability to the lives of thousands of low-income workers. A 2018 study from the center found that the vast majority of retail workers, many of whom are people of color, get their schedules a week or less in advance.

“What this allows is people to organize their lives,” she said.

In recent years, major cities including Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia and New York City, as well as the state of Oregon, have passed laws to protect the time of shift workers. Kristen Harknett, a professor of sociology at University of California, San Francisco who studied the impact of Seattle’s policy, said she found workers’ well-being improved as their schedules became more predictable.

“When you don’t know when — or how much — you’re going to work from one day or the next, it’s very disruptive,” she said. “It really just messes up your ability to plan.”

Harknett said the county’s version has the same components as the other jurisdictions, with one key difference: food service workers aren’t included.

“The carve-out for the restaurant and food industry is pretty unique,” she said. “Food service is pretty unstable and unpredictable, [and] those workers are not going to experience the enhanced protections that their counterparts in retail will.”

The county indicated in a report last May that it would look at providing “coverage for workers in several other vulnerable industries, particularly food service” in the future.

Amardeep Gill with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, an advocacy group that pushed for the county policy, said she hoped other industries would enact a similar ordinance for their own sectors.

“We’re hoping the work that we’ve done here really lays like a strong foundation where others can build upon this,” said Gill.

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