Effects of Irregular Shifts and Work Schedules

Irregular shifts and on-call work schedules usually result in working variable hours throughout the week or even the month. Shift work is typically used to describe hours worked outside the regular 9a.m. to 5p.m. time frame, and includes evenings, nights, overnight, and on-call. Split shifts and rotating shifts also contribute to the irregular employee scheduling pattern across industries.  The causes of these irregular shifts and irregular employee schedules vary, but often due to an increase in the number of firms and businesses operating around the clock, “bare-bones” staffing, or seasonal fluctuations.

Creating and managing irregular shifts and varying shift patterns can be difficult. Schedulers must pay attention to operational efficiency while maintaining employee’s work-life balance. Irregular shift work is on the rise as more and more companies and industries operate nights and weekends.

In the United States, government regulations around unpredictable scheduling, irregular shifts, and on-call employee schedules are relatively weak. But stronger regulations are emerging with the passing of California’s “A Fair Day’s Pay Act” and Seattle’s adopting of “Secure Scheduling” law. Some states do have what are referred to as “reporting time pay” laws to assist in combating sending employees home before their shift is over to ensure employees are paid for the hours they were originally scheduled to work. At this time, the percentage of states that do have these “reporting time pay” laws is relatively small.  Many worker organizations are being formed to push for legislation centering around striking a balance between work and home life.

Top Negative Effects of Irregular Shift Work on Employees

  1. Difficulty securing childcare
  2. Disrupted sleeping patters
  3. Increased risk of injuries or accidents
  4. Unpredictable pay and difficulty setting a budget
  5. Not enough advance notice of upcoming schedule
  6. Difficulty obtaining or keeping government aid
  7. Fear of being let go if make requests
  8. Increase in various health related illnesses

While there will always be a need for shift work and irregular schedules due to the nature of some businesses, it can be anticipated that future regulations regarding employee scheduling will try to mitigate these negative effects of irregular shift work.

The types of legislation that attempt to mitigate the negative effects of irregular shift scheduling take various forms. There is “secure scheduling”, which in addition to other things, requires employers to schedule and notify their employees in advance. There are the “right to request” laws which allow employees to request changes to their current work schedule without retaliation from employers. The “reporting time pay” laws were created to help ensure employees receive payment for the time they were scheduled to work even if they are sent home early. Other states have or are in discussions surrounding similar employee shift scheduling topics and the trend seems to indicate we are just seeing the beginning of government-based regulations aimed to eradicate these negative effects of irregular shift scheduling.