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Colorado bill could create difficulties for restaurant owners

HB23-1118 would force employers to post work schedules two weeks in advance
Bralee Inman and Ryder Okumura, both with Steamworks Brewing Company, work the lunch rush Wednesday at the Durango business. HB23-1118 seeks to give employees an average number of hours and pay them a minimum of 15% for those hours regardless of whether they actually worked them.

A recently proposed state house bill aiming to offer employees more predictability in their work schedules has Durango Chamber of Commerce members concerned about its impacts on business owners.

House Bill 23-1118 requires employers in restaurants, food and beverage manufacturing facilities, and retail jobs with 250 employees or more to provide work schedules to employees with more notice. This also includes restaurant with two or more locations.

It requires employers to post work schedules two weeks in advance, allows employees to request changes to their schedules and requires businesses that cancel shifts last-minute to pay employees.

Any changes to an employee's schedule will also require written employee consent.

The Steamworks Brewing Company kitchen staff cook lunchtime orders Wednesday at the Durango business.

The purpose of the bill is to address the many Coloradans working in these industries who are hourly wage employees and suffer from the extreme scheduling unpredictability, which can lead to income volatility, said Rep. Emily Sirota, the bill’s primary sponsor.

A study conducted by the Brookings Institution indicates that service-sector workers with a 50% swing in work hours are at a 13% higher risk of hunger hardship and an 11% higher risk of residential hardship than those with steady hours.

“I think that the evidence is pretty clear that unpredictable schedules are harmful and damaging to the lives and livelihood of many Colorado workers,” Sirota said. “And so we're trying to provide a little more predictability for workers in these sectors.”

Durango Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Llewellyn opposes the bill because many businesses require schedule flexibility to meet fluctuating customer demands.

“It's hard enough for employers to find workers right now, and this is just another thing on top of an already thin workforce,” he said. “Unemployment levels are low, and the bill makes it more difficult for businesses on top of coming out of the pandemic, when they were trying to survive.

Kris Oyler, CEO of Peak Food & Beverage, said the bill is horrendous for Durango restaurant owners.

Bralee Inman, with Steamworks Brewing Company take Kelly Cunnion, left, and Suzie Morse food orders Wednesday.

“We hire a lot of people that want flexibility, and they're going to be denied that now,” Oyler said.

Oyler is referring to the number of employees who may attend school or work another seasonal job.

This is a concern for restaurant owners, because the bill institutes rest shortfall pay. That means employees who are notified that they’re needed for work less than 12 hours after their previously scheduled shift must be paid time and a half.

If one employee calls out for an early shift and a restaurant has to use an employee who worked the night before, (commonly known as a “clopen” shift) the business will be forced to pay that employee more.

Llewellyn said this is common practice in the restaurant industry, and restaurant employees will often want to work a double shift, especially on weekends because they are likely to make more in gratuities.

“What we're saying is that it should be common practice that people are able to have rest between their shifts,” Sirota said. “They should be able to have time to go home to see their family, eat a meal and to sleep.”

Sirota said restaurant owners or managers do not have to call in an employee who worked within 12 hours before the shift if they don’t want to pay for those hours. She said the bill isn’t meant to be punitive toward businesses, but is meant to respect an employee’s time outside of working hours.

Furthermore, Oyler said the bill could hinder restaurants’ ability to hire new candidates and exasperate the labor shortage in the food service industry.

“If I can't offer somebody that flexibility, that cuts out a major part of our workforce here including college students, people who work at Purg in the winter, or raft guides in the summer who want to supplement their income,” Oyler said.

Customers at Steamworks Brewing Company are escorted to their seats Wednesday during lunchtime.

In addition, the bill also bars employers from hiring additional staff members until existing employees are scheduled for their desired number of weekly hours.

“If I want to hire somebody part time, I've got to wait like 45 days now to even fill the position,” Oyler said. “So I'm going to lose the opportunity to hire that talent.”

The Colorado bill also seeks to give employees an average number of hours and pay them a minimum of 15% of those hours regardless of how much they have worked.

Llewellyn said this will impact businesses because it will force them to pay for labor even if there weren’t hours worked. This may force restaurant owners to make adjustments such as downsizing staff members or increasing the price of menu items.

“I'm a believer that you should be compensated for the hours that you do work,” Llewellyn said.

The bill has been something Colorado lawmakers have inquired about with voters. Sirota said that 80% of people across party lines believe that having a work schedule two weeks in advance is fair.

“That's why it's called Fair Workweek,” Sirota said. “We are aiming for fairness for these workers to be able to plan for their finances for their lives, for their children and have that predictability in schedules.”


HB23-1118 seeks to give employees an average number of hours and pay them a minimum of 15% for those hours regardless of whether they actually worked them. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

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