New Frontiers in the Women’s Legal Movement: The Schedules That Work Act

by: Sarah McConnell

Due to the election of a new President of the United States, advocates for women will need to reevaluate their priorities and strategies for change in a new legislative context. President-elect Trump has been disturbingly vague on policy proposals, in particular those for the advancement of women. His “plan” involves a limited tax deduction for childcare expenses and paid maternity leave.[1] However, this largely ignores paid paternity leave, equal pay, or the improvement of women’s working conditions. Through such an inadequate proposal, President-elect Trump demonstrates an inability to understand the depth and breadth of women’s on-the-ground struggles, particularly those of low-income women of color. While equal pay and maternity/paternity leave prove vital, further efforts in the women’s movement should ensure Congress cannot ignore women’s realities.

Working women face a diversity of problems that affect their professional and private lives. 78 cents on the dollar has become the rallying cry for equal pay reform.[2] Yet, Latina and African American women face an even steeper climb to achieving equal pay.[3] In addition, many low-income women not only worry about salaries equal to their male counterparts, but also sexual harassment in the workplace. The availability of childcare also proves important; as of 2015, more single mothers than single fathers cared for children under the age of eighteen.[4] United States women are on the rise as family breadwinners.[5] Further, as the baby boomer population ages and the cost of medical care rises, women frequently act as caregivers for older relatives or parents.[6]

In conjunction with changes in women’s work arrives a change in employment conditions. The modern workplace has many unique features, not all positive for low-wage employees. Companies increasingly hire part-time workers to avoid paying overtime or providing health care.[7] As a result, employees have little control over their schedules, most notably in the service industries.[8] This has implications for the amount of income an individual receives, and, consequently, their ability to afford medical care, childcare, or even adequate nutrition.[9] Unpredictable scheduling has disproportionate effects, since “the parents most likely to find themselves in low-wage jobs are women – disproportionately women of color and immigrant women.”[10]

As a partial answer to these issues, the Schedules That Work Act was introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate on July 15, 2015.[11] However, it has gained little traction within Congress. This legislation requires employers “to engage in a timely, good faith interactive process with the employee” concerning requests to change a work schedule.[12] The employer must grant such a request as related to an employee’s “serious health condition, . . . his or her responsibilities as a caregiver, or enrollment in a career-related educational or training program, or if a part-time employee requests such a change for a reason related to second job,” unless the employer can put forth a bona fide business reason for denying the request.[13] Employers may not retaliate against employees for requests to alter a work schedule. [14] Another important provision grants employees in the retail, food service, or cleaning industry the right to advance notice of work schedules or changes.[15]

This proposed legislation proves vital to ameliorating working conditions for low-wage employees, especially women. We should support legislation that accommodates women, so as to stave off poverty and to prevent women from leaving the work place. At this moment in history, we cannot afford to diminish women’s voices within society. Advocating for legislation that not only helps workers, but also low-wage working women, will ensure such a result. Moving forward, I hope fair scheduling will play a more prominent role within the women’s movement and larger political dialogue.

[1] Katie Hamm and Sarah Jane Glynn, Putting Family Policy on the Governing Agenda, The American Prospect, (Oct. 24, 2016),

[2] Sara Ashley O’Brien, 78 Cents on the Dollar: The Facts About the Gender Wage Gap, CNN (April 14, 2015),

[3] Kevin Miller, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Fall 2016), American Association of University Women (2016),

[4] U.S. Census Bureau, Table FG10. Family Groups: 2015,

[5] Catherine Rampell, U.S. Women on the Rise as Family Breadwinner, The New York Times (May 29, 2013),

[6] Phyllis Mutschler, Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures, Family Caregiver Alliance (Dec. 13, 2003),

[7] Charlotte Alexander et. al., Stabilizing Low-Wage Work, 50 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 1 (2015)

[8] Alana Semuels, When Raising the Minimum Wage Isn’t Enough, The Atlantic (Nov. 25, 2014),

[9] Emily Martin et. al., Set Up for Success: Supporting Parents in Low Wage Jobs and Their Children, The National Women’s Law Center (June 9, 2016),

[10] Id.

[11] Schedules that Work Act, S. 1772, 114th Cong. (2015).

[12] Id. at § 3(b)(1).

[13] Id. at § 3(c).

[14] Id. at § 5(b).

[15] Id. at § 4(c).

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