New York City’s fast food workers are now being provided new job protections.
Effective July 4, the new Just Cause law will make it so fast food employers cannot fire or lay off workers, or reduce their hours by more than 15 percent without just cause or a legitimate economic reason. The new protections were announced on July 2 by Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Acting Commissioner Sandra Abeles.
“For too long, fast food workers—a predominately minority and female workforce—have been treated as if they were disposable and yet they have been there for us on the frontlines throughout the pandemic,” said Abeles. “These workers deserve better and no worker should be left jobless for unjust reasons – ever. This vital law will bring additional stability to the lives of these low-wage workers and ensure they can’t be fired on a whim.”
Under the new just cause law, fast food employers must give workers who are passed the probation period a chance to improve and can only fire underperforming workers after giving them multiple disciplinary warnings in a year or for egregious misconduct. Employers cannot lay off workers except for economic reasons, and layoffs must be in reverse order of seniority, with the longest-serving workers laid off last. Any employee that is fired, laid-off or receives a reduction of hours must receive a written explanation about why, and employers must give laid-off or current workers priority to work newly available shifts, with employers advertising open shifts either by text/email or by posters in the restaurant. Employers in these establishments can only hire new workers if no laid-off or current NYC workers accept the shifts by the posted deadline.
Once in effect, workers can immediately enforce their new rights in court through a private right of action, and the DCWP will start to enforce the laws on Sept. 2. Starting in January 2022, workers can request to resolve their complaints through a DCWP binding arbitration.
“The new Just Cause provision signifies a major boost to the protections that the tens of thousands of NYC fast food workers were enjoying under the local Fair Workweek Law,” said Maria Figueroa, Director of Labor and Policy Research at the Worker Institute, Cornell University-ILR School. “This new provision not only grants workers with protections against wrongful discharge, but also empowers them to exercise their workplace rights without fear of retaliation. The enactment and implementation of Just Cause is an example of effective local level policymaking to achieve worker protections. The hope is that additional cities across the country will replicate this approach to improve labor standards in the fast food industry.”
Under the Fair Workweek Law, New York City fast food employers are required to give workers regular, predictable general schedules, two weeks’ advance notice of their work schedules covering specific dates, premium pay of between $10-$75 for schedule changes, and the opportunity to work newly available shifts before hiring new workers. Employers cannot schedule employees for morning or night shifts without consent in writing from the workers and must pay the workers a $100 premium to work the shift. Employers must also obtain written consent from the worker if they add any time to their work schedules with less than two weeks’ notice and may not penalize them for declining to work. Under the Law, retail employers must also give workers advanced notice of work schedules and may not schedule workers for on-call shifts or change workers’ schedules with inadequate notice.
“For years, countless workers across the city have faced the constant threat of being fired for arbitrary reasons or no reason at all,” said Jose Lopez, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. “We hear all the time from workers whose bosses have, overnight and for no good reason, destroyed their livelihood and left their family in desperate straits. The city’s Just Cause law will require that employers play by a fair set of rules when it comes to firings and hours reductions—exactly what all workers deserve in their jobs.”
All fast food employers must post the new NYC Fast Food Workers’ Rights Notice in English and any language that is the primary language of at least five percent of the workers if available on the DCWP website. To access the notice, employees and employers can visit nyc.gov/workers or call 311 (212-NEW-YORK outside NYC).