Chipotle Under Fire—Is New York City’s Fair Workweek Law Fair to Restaurants?

New York City’s Fair Workweek Law went into effect on November 26, 2017. Since that time, advocates claim it supports an overworked and undervalued workforce, while critics suggest the law results in scheduling nightmares and premium payments that are difficult to sustain. As with most disagreements, somewhere between the two viewpoints probably lies the truth.

What Is New York City’s Fair Workweek Law?

New York City’s Fair Workweek Law applies to retail and fast-food establishments. Fast food employers must give their employees their schedules 14 days in advance. If employers need to change shifts after this time, they must pay fast-food workers “premium” payments.

For example, if an operator gives an employee less than 24 hours’ notice regarding a shift change, they must pay $15 per change and $75 if the change resulted in reduced work time. If the employee receives less than 7-days’ notice of a schedule change, the employer pays $15 per change and $45 if it reduced the employee’s hours.

Employers must also provide a “Good Faith Estimate,” which states the hours an employee can expect to work during their employment.

The law also requires 11 hours between shifts when they span two calendar days. If this aspect of the law is violated, which does occur when an employee unexpectedly calls in sick or quits, the employer must pay a premium. If an employee offers to work a “clopening” shift that involves closing down the restaurant one night and opening it up the next, they must consent in writing and be paid a $100 premium.

The law also gives existing employees priority when new shifts become available. This means that an employer may not hire additional employees unless none of their current employees accept the posted shifts by a specified deadline.

Employers must also post the notice, You Have a Right to a Predictable Work Schedule, which states employees’ rights under the law.

Effective July 18, 2018, the New York City Council amended the law, allowing employees to change their schedule twice a year for personal events.

On January 5, 2021, Mayor de Blasio signed into law two pieces of legislation that expanded the Fair Workweek Law. According to The National Law Review, effective in July 2021, following a probationary period, “fast food employers may not discharge, reduce the hours of employees by 15% of their regular schedule or by 15% of any weekly work schedule, or indefinitely suspend employees without “Just Cause.” The law goes on to describe, in lengthy terms, what entails “Just Cause.” For employers citing economic grounds, the law requires a “Bona Fide Economic Reason.”

What Are the Supporting Arguments for Fair Workweek Laws?

Advocates say that workers in low-wage industries experience unpredictable and insufficient work hours. These volatile hours make it difficult to plan for child care or pursue additional employment or career opportunities. On the other hand, predictable scheduling allows workers to budget and plan according to how much money they will earn and what hours they will work.

What Are the Critics’ Arguments Against Fair Workweek Laws?

Critics believe that the stringent and complex provisions make it difficult for employers to follow and comply. They also note that, despite the upheaval brought on by the pandemic, predictive-scheduling ordinances remained in effect.

In 2018, a coalition of industry groups challenged the law, stating that it conflicted with the New York Labor Law. In 2020, the law was upheld. The group appealed the decision and, on April 20, 2021, the Supreme Court of the State of New York rejected the appeal and upheld the law again.

Why Was Chipotle Mexican Grill Charged With Failure to Comply?

On April 28, New York City sued Chipotle for violating the Fair Workweek Law at numerous locations. The complaint charges Chipotle with eight counts, most of which are violations of the Fair Workweek Law.

Each of the 599,693 violations is subject to $500 in fines, adding up to almost $300 million in fines. This is in addition to the $150 million that the city alleges Chipotle owes in back pay.

Chipotle’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Laurie Schalow called the allegations a “dramatic overreach” and claimed the fast-food chain would “vigorously defend itself,” according to The New York Times.

Why Is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Calling for a Boycott Against Chipotle?

At a May 12 rally, Mayor de Blasio called for a boycott against the mega-Mexican grill chain, bringing attention to its Fair Workweek Law alleged violations. According to Restaurant Business, de Blasio said, “Here’s my message to Chipotle, we don’t want your burritos. We don’t want your rice and beans. We just want you to give dignity to working people and stop this madness…But, otherwise, I’m not going near a Chipotle. I don’t think anyone else should, too. Because I don’t want to give a dollar, a single dollar, to a company that cheats working people.”

Currently, five cities and one state have enacted Fair Workweek Laws. The industries covered vary by location. For instance, San Francisco’s law covers retail trade, Seattle’s covers retail trade and fast food, and Oregon’s law applies to the retail trade and accommodation & food services.

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