The iconic McDonald's arches Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

New York City will become the latest city to increase protections for retail and fast food workers with a package of bills Mayor Bill de Blasio signed this week.

The bills, which would affect as many as 65,000 workers, includes requirements for employers to provide workers their schedules two weeks in advance, eliminates consecutive shifts, allows employers to offer opportunities to current employees and allows workers to contribute to nonprofit organizations. Another bans on-call scheduling.

San Francisco and Seattle have enacted similar laws. New York is the largest city to make these changes and the mayor called it the most progressive restaurant rights laws in the country. The bills will take effect in six months. Unions have lauded the moves for creating increased protections for an often overworked industry and some business groups have criticized the legislation for restricting flexibility.

We spoke with Daniel Kadish, a Morgan, Lewis & Bockius associate in New York who specializes in employment law, about what employers in New York and the rest of the country need to consider about these new laws. Excerpts from our conversation are below.

What are some important considerations about these new laws?

Kadish said the laws, designed to provide a good workplace with scheduling and compensation for fast food workers, will represent a big shift for employers. The restaurant industry often faces challenges about how many workers will be needed a week or two weeks in advance, he said. Current law was ambiguous about the on-call system, for example. Restaurants and retail often rely on flexible schedules—New York’s new law will remove that flexibility, according to Kadish.

How will employers be affected?  

The ban on consecutive shifts was an “interesting twist,” Kadish said. “There was one aspect that was not widely reported that prevents employers from working closing shifts and opening the next day. He said this is an example of something that might create addition scheduling headaches.

“With scheduling, employers are looking at labor costs,” he said. “To that extent, this may create administrative burdens to comply with the new laws.”

Another example is the requirement to provide worker schedules two weeks in advance.

“This is an industry where people aren’t working 9-5 every day. That type of advance notice is difficult,” he said.

How will the new laws be enforced?

The penalties, which range between $10 and $75 per offense, can add up.

“The idea is that these penalties are seemingly small but potentially significant,” Kadish said. “I work with a couple large nationwide companies that will need to look at scheduling and labor policies. They may think it’s only New York City, but it becomes more complicated because the new rules may not be in line with nationwide or state policies.”

Are nationwide companies adjusting their policies?

“There are patchwork laws throughout the country—scheduling laws, overtime, paid sick leave—and cities and states are continuing to pass new rules,” Kadish said. “There is no clear answer. Some large companies take the lowest common denominator approach. They say ‘We will go with the most progressive law and apply it throughout our company to make it as administratively simple as possible. The problem with that is many employers will then provide benefits that are far more generous than required.”

He said other companies choose a base policy and will create new addendums for cities with more restrictive laws.

“Employers here should consider doing something along these lines and think about how they best want to react,” he said. “We also see employers group progressive jurisdictions together. They may have two carve outs and similar piece of the policies, such as in San Francisco or New York City.”

Will other states and cities follow New York City’s lead to pass progressive laws for workers’ rights?

Yes, other jurisdictions are “heading in this direction,” Kadish said.

“All it takes is one city that is progressive and protective of employees for large companies to react. Same thing is happening with [paid] leave laws. Paid sick law proliferation over the last three years. Even states that are quite liberal pass laws by a huge majority,” Kadish said. “The current presidential administration talks about sick leave, minimum wage, but the truth is that it’s hard to get things done on the federal level. A lot is happening on the state and local level and there will be a move toward more cities doing this type of law. That creates a patchwork quilt to comply with.”