First-Ever Report Reveals Prevalence and Negative Impact of D.C. Employers’ “Just-in-Time” Scheduling Practices

Schedules are Unpredictable and Unsustainable for Men and Women Working in D.C.’s Retail, Food and Service Jobs

Ari Schwartz, 202-674-3228
ari (at)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the first-ever study on service sector scheduling practices in D.C. released today, researchers conclude that erratic and unpredictable hours negatively impact employees and their families.

Unpredictable, Unsustainable: The Impact of Employers’ Scheduling Practices in D.C.,” issued by DC Jobs With Justice, Jobs With Justice Education Fund, DC Fiscal Policy Institute and Georgetown University Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, draws on a survey conducted with 436 respondents in 2015, focusing on the retail and restaurant/food service industries.

Consistent with previous research, the authors find that District employees are granted too few hours on too short notice, resulting in unpredictable incomes and work schedules that make it hard for individuals to budget, arrange childcare, continue with education or hold down a second job to try to make ends meet.

“It’s frustrating and it’s stressful to not get hours. The money from 20 hours a week only gets me back and forth to work but nothing more for my family,” said Stephanie Dunn, who was interviewed for the report. Dunn, a part-time cashier at Marshalls has had her hours cut from 25 to 20 to 15 hours a week since joining the staff in October 2013.

So-called “just-in-time” scheduling practices, where employees are asked to come and go depending on how much work there is to do, are highly prevalent in the District. Company policies can force employees to maintain open availability for full-time hours when they are only assigned and compensated for part-time hours. Supervisors commonly send staff home before their shift ends without compensation. High variance in schedules from week to week can make it difficult to arrange childcare, let alone pursue additional employment or education. Other key findings include:

  • Low Pay Common: The typical employee works 32 hours per week at a pay rate of $10 per hour, well below $13.80, the living wage for D.C. government contractors.
  • Second Jobs Required: Nearly one-quarter of individuals work at least one additional job.
  • Lack of Advance Notice: Nearly half of employees reported first learning of their work schedules less than one week in advance; one-third receive initial work schedules with less than three days’ notice; and nearly one-third of retail and restaurant/food service employees reported receiving less than 24 hours’ notice of schedule changes.
  • Life On Hold For On-Call Shifts: Individuals assigned on-call/call-in shifts appear to have a 50/50 chance of getting paid to work, despite holding time for their employers.
  • Shortened Shifts: Half of those working in the restaurant/food service industry reported being sent home before working their full shifts.
  • Part-Time Work, Full-Time Availability: 60 % of individuals said they must always be available to fulfill any assigned work schedule—regardless of the days or hours—in order to be considered for full-time hours or the best shifts available.

“Just-in-time scheduling practices are not working for D.C. families,” said Ed Lazere, Executive Director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. “Almost all service sector workers in D.C. say they need more hours, given their very low wages, to make ends meet.”

Employees surveyed in the report said they might not request changes to their schedules out of fear, or direct experience of employer retaliation. Former PMI employee Fikirte Atlaw believes she was fired for asking for a different schedule after 25 years of working as a parking attendant for the company. After her husband passed away, she requested starting her job one hour later in the morning so she could manage dropping her son off at school. Atlaw’s experience mirrors results from the survey that found 23 percent of women in the service sector faced retaliation when asking for a schedule change.

The report calls on D.C. policymakers to set new standards on scheduling predictability and promote access to stable hours that allow D.C. residents to strive. Strong public support exists behind these measures –- a New York Times/CBS poll released last week found that 72 percent of Americans favor requiring employers to give two weeks’ notice of changes to work schedules or provide employees with extra pay.
“The women and men who serve our food, stock our shelves and sweep our floors deserve some security in their schedules to lead a good life. Encouraging and enforcing stable work scheduling practices will mark significant progress toward making Washington, D.C. a great place to live, work and sustain a family,” said Executive Director of DC Jobs With Justice Nikki Lewis.

The full report and executive summary of “Unpredictable, Unsustainable: The Impact of Employers’ Scheduling Practices in D.C.,” can be accessed at

Interviews with the report authors and District residents impacted by unfair scheduling practices are available upon request.