Are we really open for business when no one has a schedule?

By Sukhmani Virdi, Caseworker in Employment Law & Academic Appeal Division

             Are you trying to plan your life without knowing when to work, for how long and no real ability to turn down work?  Are you bummed because your shift was canceled the night before? Are you trying to balance courses and a job, unable to know when you have time to complete school work because your boss still hasn’t made the schedule? Is it making you uneasy not knowing what your day will look like three days from now? If so, you are not alone. These are the realities for many of the almost 44 percent of people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area who work in precarious jobs.[1]

            Irregular or short notice scheduling impacts more than just a person’s work, it defines their life. The Economic Policy Institute found that workers with irregular schedules experience greater work-family conflict than those with regular, standard schedules.[2] Other studies have demonstrated that workers in precarious employment are less likely to invest in their children (less volunteering at their child’s ).[3] In addition, these workers are more likely to experience poor health[4] as they are less likely to engage in preventative care. After all, who can afford to go to a doctor’s appointment when they might be called in to work?

            Employers argue that they need flexibility to schedule and cancel shifts last minute to respond to business needs otherwise they lose money. However, when workers do not know when they are working, or are trying to balance multiple part-time jobs, they are not ready to work at a moment’s notice – and employers are still left scrambling. By giving workers some notice, they give workers an opportunity to plan and to be reliable.  Reliable employees prevent a business from being short-staffed in busy periods or missing sales. In a 2015 pilot project, Gap implemented two key practices to support stable scheduling in their US workplaces: (1) schedules were posted two weeks in advance; (2) on-call shifts were eliminated. After eight months, Gap saw a median increase of 7% in their sales.[5] By posting schedules even just a few days in advance, employers are giving workers a sense of security and when workers feel secure, they stay in their positions, and employers avoid turnover and overhead costs.  

            For a short period, it looked like workers in Ontario were going to get some security in scheduling.  Starting this January workers were to have the right to (1) refuse a request to work with less than 96 hours’ notice; (2) be paid for 3 hours if their scheduled or on-call shift was cancelled within 48 hours’ of the start time.  But in November 2018, before these modest steps could come into effect, the Ford Government axed them without any consultation or substitution. Can Ontario really be “open for business” when no one knows when to come ?

[1] Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (May 2015) The Precarity Penalty: The Impact of Employment Precarity on Individuals, Households and Communities – and what to do about it. Online:, 3.

[2] Economic Policy Institute (2015) Irregular Work Scheduling and its Consequences. EPI Briefing Paper #394. 2015., 2.

[3] Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario, 13.

[4] Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario, 9.

[5] Joan Williams et al. Stable Scheduling Increases Productivity and Sales. Online:, 6-7.