Maine Bill Would Limit Workforce Flexibility

This week the Maine House of Representatives Labor and Housing Committee will consider LD553, An Act to End At-Will Employment. If enacted, the bill will become the second in our Union that will prohibit "at-will employment" status and that far exceeds the limitations imposed under Montana law that have been in place since 1987.

If we have learned one thing from this pandemic, it's that employees desire more control and flexibility with their work schedules. On the other side of that equation, employers, specifically retailers, ask for that same flexibility as they create their workforces to respond to ever-changing customer habits—more reliance on e-commerce and buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) methodology.

Faced with the BOPIS business model, retailers need to juggle in-store customers' demands while fulfilling the needs of customers ordering their weekly groceries or next box of diapers from home. In many ways, retailers are creating a new business unit within the stores that mirrors a distribution center—these employees' sole purpose is fulfilling online orders. Even then, employees are still needed to restock store shelves, manage check-out lines, and assist with in-store customer needs. Compound these challenges with seasonal demand; you quickly begin to see where an issue may arise.  

The key is flexibility. Retailers often need to meet seasonal demands, while gig-workers often want the flexibility to pick up shifts based on their needs. Understanding this win-win scenario makes you question why Maine is threatening this common-sense relationship. As drafted, LD553 would mandate a "progressive discipline policy" that would consist of three steps to terminate an employee. The first being a verbal warning followed by two written warnings. A written description must accompany each warning, and the employee must sign the final written warning. The only exception to the "progressive discipline policy" is if an employee violates any state law.

How does this impact seasonal employment? Retailers will likely be reluctant to invest in additional staff to meet seasonal demand if they aren't afforded the same flexibility to adjust when demand diminishes. Upending that balance will have real consequences for both employers and employees, with fewer jobs in Maine as the likely outcome. As proposed, LD553 denies this reality and should be opposed by all who want to see main street storefronts succeed in an economy that has increasingly become a blend of physical and digital retail.

Throughout the COVID-pandemic, retailers have been extraordinarily creative to meet the different needs of every family in their community while emphasizing the safety of every employee and customer. State legislatures should celebrate this ingenuity, not set up roadblocks that make it harder to operate in the modern economy.

If you agree or have concerns of your own, I encourage you to reach out to Curtis Picard, President & CEO, of the Retail Association of Maine who is spearheading the industry’s opposition to the legislation. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 24th, at 10 AM EST.  

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