Out of Sync: How Unemployment Insurance Rules Fail Workers with Volatile Job Schedules

Source: Rick McHugh, Claire McKenna Liz Ben-Ishai, National Employment Law Project (NELP) and Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), August 2015

From the summary:
Millions of Americans are employed in jobs with volatile schedules that fluctuate weekly, both in terms of total hours and shift times; these workers receive little advance notice of their shifts and are frequently required to work “on call.” One consequence of job-schedule volatility is job loss: for some workers, the mismatch between job schedules and the rest of their responsibilities become untenable, either forcing them to quit or leading them to be fired from their jobs. In these cases, workers and their families need a safety net to help them while they seek new, hopefully more stable, employment. For many jobless workers, public cash assistance is not available, often leaving unemployment insurance (UI) as the only safety net. This paper explores the extent to which UI responds to the needs of workers who are jobless due to volatile work schedules.

Our analysis of access to UI for workers with volatile schedules is based upon legal research and interviews with agency staff or advocates in 10 states. We find that, with some exceptions, UI rules fail to address the needs of such workers. Not just formal UI rules, but state unemployment agency practices negatively affect workers with volatile schedules. Often, when workers who have lost their jobs as a result of scheduling challenges seek UI, state agencies simply apply existing UI rules to these cases—regardless of their fairness or reasonableness in such cases. To better address the needs of workers with volatile job schedules who are seeking UI benefits, states may need to establish new rules, revise existing ones, or rethink how they are applying existing rules.