Staffing Management

Employee scheduling after the COVID-19 pandemic

By Andie Burjek

Jun. 12, 2020

Employee scheduling was getting a facelift even before COVID-19, and in the aftermath of the pandemic, employers have even more to think about when it comes to scheduling employees.  

The 2010s brought a number of state or local predictive scheduling laws into effect, giving employees much needed stability but complicating the scheduling process for managers. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the lack of sick or paid leave for many hourly workers and the struggles employers go through when employees can’t come to work fo COVID-19-related reasons.

David Kopsch, principal consultant at Mercer, explained the major employee scheduling issues employers are encountering and ways to address those challenges.

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software, compliancePredictive scheduling laws across the United States

In a nutshell, these predictive scheduling laws require employers to notify employees in advance of what their schedules will be. Some cities require as low as 72 hours notice while others require as high as two weeks. 

The goal is to reduce uncertainty in employees’ schedules so that they can plan for responsibilities like child care, school or other jobs.   

Also read: How far in advance must a work schedule be posted?

The most frequently discussed part of these laws is the advance notice on schedule, Kopsch said, but they also contain many other provisions, like recordkeeping requirements and providing compensation for schedule changes.

Something else significant in these laws are rules that let employees have a certain amount of time off between the end of the last shift and the beginning of the next one, Kopsch said. For example, if an employee closes shop around 10 p.m., the same employee is not opening the site at 6 a.m. There are safety reasons for this, but these rules also exist to ensure that employees get enough sleep or rest between shifts. 

While making the lives of employees easier, these laws have also added another layer of complexity for managers who must create schedules. 

COVID-19 complications to employee scheduling

With the pandemic, hourly employees are facing a variety of situations in which they may not be able to come into work. They may be sick or suspect that they may have the coronavirus. They may face child care lapses due to school closures or other circumstances. 

This can hurt employees’ wages and has the potential to impact their eligibility for bonuses, overtime or benefits, Kopsch said. Employers also face extra pressure when employees don’t come into work. 

Some employers may need to adjust their staffing models due to COVID-19, Kopsch said. As businesses start reopening, one reality is that they may have to spend more time in the mornings cleaning and sanitizing the location. Perhaps the business will have to be open less hours during the day and run on a reduced schedule, which also has the impact of a reduced workforce or giving employees less hours.    

Also read: Shift scheduling strategies can be improved through technology

Communication with payroll providers 

Managers must ensure they are communicating with their payroll provider through this all. 

“In these times of reduced schedules, there’s more interaction with payroll providers and technology to update the systems and adjust for the changes in how the workforce is working and coming to work,” Kopsch said. 

For example, he noted a tactic some retailers are using in which they’re paying hourly workers slightly higher wages or offering some type of bonus to motivate and retain employees. 

“If you introduce a new pay element, that’s one more item that you have to ensure [that you’re being] compliant. And that goes back to working with a payroll provider,” he said.

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Communication with employees

Managers can also take on certain best practices to keep employees engaged and in the loop. Clearly communicating open and closing times is important. Also, make sure to be clear when employees should arrive for their shift. There may be extra precautions to take before their shift starts, like sanitizing or training. 

Reopening a business after the pandemic is complicated, and clear communication can help simplify it.

Technology can also simplify the communication between employers and employees. 

“We’re seeing technology as something being reviewed more and more by employers as a way to support employees as well as a way to communicate with them and help them understand what is available in terms of what schedules are available and getting and receiving communication.,” Kopsch said.

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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