Published in Hotel Executive, December 2022. The hotel industry currently finds itself at a crossroads when it comes to attracting, retaining and managing its employee workforce. As if worker shortages were not enough for hoteliers to contend with, they must now also address a steady stream of new laws and regulations setting new standards on what it means to provide suitable workplace conditions.
A hard truth that the hospitality market has to swallow is that it has fallen behind other industries in addressing the needs of today’s workforce. More and more industry workers continue to flee their jobs in favor of working in other sectors promising improved work conditions. Above all else, these employees are seeking out a better work/life balance, with regions passing various laws in an effort to protect evolving expectations for workplace flexibility and predictability.
Having to follow these regulations may at first appear challenging with the potential to disrupt the flow of business operations. But as with many other things in hospitality, the key is to leverage technology where feasible to sidestep potential stumbling blocks and eliminate any adverse effect on hotel services. By looking to more recent advances in workforce management innovation, hoteliers are now finding that they can easily ensure continuous compliance with any changes in the legal landscape. Better still, they can also gain an edge in demonstrating a commitment to employee wellbeing, which in turn leads to increased staff loyalty and a renewed focus on delivering an exceptional guest experience.
Understanding the Rise of Fair Workweek Laws
Leading the push on evolving workplace rules and requirements are fair workweek laws that are being enacted by more regions with each passing year. Also known as predictive scheduling laws, these are intended to provide service sector employees with a much better grasp on juggling responsibilities both inside and outside of work.
Although hotel managers may be concerned that fair workweek laws can limit their ability to schedule according to fluctuations in service demand and make last minute schedules, they should first approach the subject by understanding why such laws are being put in place. The hospitality industry is by no means immune to the influences and needs of daily modern life, which for a hotel’s staff can mean anything from having to manage childcare to working around the schedule of a second or third job to accommodating the schedule of a working spouse or partner. In fact, one of the leading causes of hotel employees seeking out jobs within other industries has been the sector’s traditional inflexibility in providing staff with the ability to adequately balance both job and personal life commitments.
Fair work week laws are therefore designed to level the playing field by providing employees with set schedules that they can plan around in advance. Regions and municipalities with fair workweek laws on the books currently include San Francisco, Oregon, New York City and Chicago, with more sure to follow as employee wellbeing becomes an industry-wide priority.
Leveraging Fair Workweek Laws to Run a More Successful Hotel
Rather than fret over the increasing adoption of fair workweek laws, the hospitality industry should instead look to them as an opportunity to improve their standing with current and prospective employees. After all, hoteliers that respect worker priorities for an improved work/life balance will be able to minimize the potential for other job opportunities to be viewed as more attractive and can provide a high-value incentive that builds loyalty.
However, many hoteliers no doubt believe that implementing a predictive schedule policy is easier said than done, especially given the difficulties of simply ensuring that a shift has sufficient coverage. Such challenges only increase thanks to each region or municipality having their own specific requirements when it comes to maintaining fair workweek law compliance.
A key aspect of effectively meeting the requirements of these laws is being able to generate a labor plan based on a viable prediction of business volumes for the schedule period. An intelligent forecasting module will help properties schedule labor by providing a forecast of covers, guests and other business drivers that help determine staffing needs. While many hotels have the ability to predict room volumes two or three weeks out, a robust workforce management tool will also help provide a forecast for restaurants and recreational departments.
Regardless of whether a hotelier has to contend with just one region’s laws or those of several areas, workforce management technology is proving to be the key that unlocks effortless compliance while maintaining high quality guest service. For example, and with more robust platforms, any relevant fair workweek rules can be automatically identified and implemented as schedules are generated. Whether a region requires schedules to be posted one or two weeks in advance, newer workforce management technologies ensure that hoteliers can bypass any guesswork and the risk of human error that may lead to incurring penalties.
As any manager in charge of hotel scheduling knows, things can and do happen that necessitate the adjusting of already planned and published schedules. An employee may call out or a manager may have overlooked a team member’s upcoming approved vacation time. Either way, they find themselves having to find a replacement able to fill a shift gap but must now do so without violating fair workweek requirements. Likewise for these types of situations, a modern workforce management solution can automatically and instantly identify which employee(s) are able to be assigned to an open shift while staying in line with predictive scheduling requirements. In instances where an employee can’t be assigned without coming into conflict with fair workweek rules, depending on the region, a workforce management solution can also determine if a worker can nonetheless be assigned following the payment of some sort of additional fee. With fair workweek rules and exceptions that vary by region, workforce management technologies are proving crucial towards a hotelier’s ability to keep track of the various nuances while maintaining adequately staffed operations and seamless workflows.
Maintaining Compliance With a Growing Array of Labor Laws
Fair workweek laws are among the more recent additions to the legal landscape with regards to managing a hotel’s workforce, but they are certainly not the only ones that property managers have to contend with. For example, many industry professionals are no doubt familiar with the need to pay overtime if an employee goes over the allotted number of hours they are permitted to work. In other instances, hoteliers may not be able to schedule those under the age of 18 to work certain hours if it’s on a school night. Certain roles such as serving alcohol are also typically off limits to younger employees, and therefore require schedules and role assignments to be adjusted accordingly.
These are just a few examples of the many laws and regulations a scheduling manager must consider and address before being able to even think about assigning employees. At best, the ever-increasing number of labor laws that managers have to juggle means that creating and managing schedules can take up countless hours. At its worst, a simple mistake can cause a hotel to become non-compliant, opening itself up to costly penalties and exposure to legal liabilities.
As with fair workweek laws, newer workforce management technologies are proving indispensable to abiding by any relevant labor laws instantly and without making risky assumptions. Using advanced algorithms and machine learning, these systems can identify any rules or limitations for each employee and implement them automatically while performing the main task of creating efficiency-optimized schedules. Regardless of whether an underage employee can only work until 7pm on weekdays, or if another staff member has a disability preventing them from performing a particular role, a modern workforce management solution can seamlessly address and resolve such issues while ensuring that coverage continues to align with projected service demand needs. Moreover, new managers may be unfamiliar with a number of these issues and be more susceptible to error as they get up to speed. With a workforce management solution, the learning curve is dramatically reduced, if not virtually eliminated.
Going Beyond Legal Requirements to Meet Modern Employee Needs
The increase in labor laws protecting employees should be welcomed by hospitality professionals seeking to improve employer reputations and reverse the flow of workers leaving the industry. Yet to create the positive and mutually beneficial workplace environment that many workers now demand, hoteliers must take a more proactive approach rather than wait for laws to catch up with current employee expectations.
For example, fair workweek laws do indeed address employee needs for schedule predictability, but they only resolve a part of the issue standing in the way of achieving a satisfactory work/life balance. Thanks to the influence of the gig economy, more and more employees are demanding schedule flexibility that can be tailored to their individual needs. One employee may only be able to work on certain days when they are able to obtain transportation, while another may not be able to work evenings due to attending night classes.
Rather than present such staff with an ultimatum to either pick up the hours they’ve been assigned or look for another job, hoteliers should instead leverage workforce management technology to simultaneously comply with labor laws while adopting a flexible schedule strategy. Using the same advanced tools, these systems can provide each employee with several options to select shifts based on upcoming business needs. This ensures that departments and other operational areas always have the required number of employees to keep service quality high and in line with guest standards. At the same time, it demonstrates to workers that an employer sincerely cares for the wellbeing of each individual employee - which only boosts their level of loyalty and incentivizes them to perform a better job.
Access to instant pay is another issue that, like flexible scheduling, is not yet enacted by law, but follows the same goal of making life a little easier for industry employees. While many regions must comply with minimum wage requirements, what is leading to increased stress among hotel staff is the inability to access wages when needed. Frontline hospitality positions are overwhelmingly modest-paying jobs, resulting in many workers having to live paycheck to paycheck to pay the bills. But what if a bill is due before an employee gets paid? Instead of forcing staff to rely on predatory lending services, hoteliers can leverage comprehensive workforce management systems to implement instant pay capabilities. While simultaneously ensuring adherence to labor laws, these platforms can provide staff with immediate access to wages and tips as soon as a shift has been completed. Fully automated and representing no additional work for managers, implementing instant pay may not be legally required, but it nonetheless is a vital cornerstone that serves the same end of making workplace conditions more hospitable and able to earn the loyalty of employees.