The invitations were sent and RSVPs collected. His fiancee’s white dress, with its black sash and black veil, was hanging in their apartment closet. The cake was ordered, decorated with stripes of icing and silhouettes of Jack Skellington and Sally, to match their Nightmare Before Christmas theme. The wedding was set for a couple of days before Halloween.
The only problem was that Paul didn’t know whether or not he had the day off from his job as a sous-chef at a retirement community.
He had submitted the request for time off almost three months in advance. (His work requires at least 30 days’ notice, but he wanted to give his employer as much advance notice as possible.) But as Paul’s fiancée Cassie explained, “You don’t know whether you have [time] off until the schedule comes out. So you could be hanging in the balance for a long time.” Paul’s manager posts the schedule at the beginning of each week, effectively giving employees less than 24 hours’ notice about whether or not they will be working the next day. This meant that one week before his wedding date—with thousands of dollars spent and out of town guests planning to travel—Paul was not sure whether or not he had his wedding day off.
He didn’t tell his mother this, for fear that she would freak out. But he told Cassie that if the choice came down to getting married as planned or losing his job, he would choose getting married. He’d probably just call in sick and hope that he didn’t get fired for it.
“The thought that they wouldn’t give him his wedding day off was mind-boggling,” says Cassie. “What is going on with these people?” But Paul and Cassie weren’t being unreasonably paranoid. Their prior experience with Paul’s manager taught them that time requested off—even months in advance—could be denied at the last minute.
In January of that year, Paul had requested a week off in May for a family vacation. He, Cassie, and Cassie’s five-year-old daughter planned a trip to visit family in North Carolina to attend a cousin’s wedding. Figuring that five months was enough advance notice, they planned their driving route and booked hotels. But the week before they were scheduled to leave, Paul saw that he was scheduled to work. His request for time off had been denied because someone with seniority had also requested off during that week. Paul and Cassie still don’t understand why the manager couldn’t have let them know this sooner.
Cassie says that Congress needs to do something to change these kinds of scheduling practices “because I don’t think it’s fair. Not to families.” She adds,
I mean, I can kind of deal with Paul not having any weekends off, but when we try to plan family time, and you don’t find out until the week before that they don’t get to go, it’s ridiculous. You’re costing families more money, and you are denying them family time…. We don’t get much family time.
Thankfully, Paul’s request for his wedding day off was granted. The day after Paul and Cassie married in a small country church with friends and family surrounding them, they went into Paul’s work to get his schedule. He had requested their wedding week off, but the couple hadn’t planned a honeymoon in part because of the uncertainty of his schedule. Instead of a honeymoon, they enjoyed a “staycation.”
Paul really likes his job and is proud of his position. He remembers his fifth-grade teacher having each student go up to the chalkboard to write down what they wanted to be when they grew up. On the right side of the chalkboard in the bottom corner, Paul wrote, “Chef.”
“And I was the only one,” he says proudly. But though he loves his job, he can’t stand not knowing his schedule in advance.
Cassie agrees. “That’s about the only thing we don’t like about his job," she says. "Basically, we can’t plan anything.” Cassie works as a hospital registrar, and she can see her schedule on the computer at least five months in advance. “I have my vacation approved for April,” she explains. She also has an upcoming surgery, and when she told her manager about it, within a few days it was updated in the system. “I just sent it in, and she just took me off those days…” Cassie adds. “That’s what I love about my work.”
Paul has requested work off the day of Cassie’s surgery so that he can be there to help her get to and from the hospital and care for her while she recovers. But he won’t know if he has the day off until that week. Cassie shrugs and says, “If I have to stay home by myself, I’ll stay home by myself.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute, almost 10 percent of workers report that they do not have a “usual” workweek. Irregular schedules are more common in certain industries, like retail or food service, and the lowest income workers are more likely to face the most irregular schedules. As sociologists Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer write, “What low-wage employers now seem to demand are workers whose lives have infinite give and 24-7 dedication, for little in return.”
Perhaps this is why all of the participants in our recent focus group of working-class Millennial parents, which included Paul and Cassie, agreed that they’d like to see Congress address last-minute and haphazard scheduling practices. As Cassie said during the focus group, this would be a simple way for employers to “show courtesy to their employees.”
In our next post, we’ll suggest why businesses looking to increase morale and employee retention—as well as those who care about the family lives of those they employ—should consider adopting more predictable scheduling practices.