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Should Retailers be Allowed to Make On-Call Shifts

Should a on-call shift be allowed? There are 13 national retailers being questioned on this practice by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Letters were sent out Friday April 10th to these 13 retailers:  Gap Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew Group Inc., L. Brands, Burlington Coat Factory, TJX Companies, Urban Outfitters, Target Corp., Sears Holding Corp., Williams-Sonoma Inc., Crocs, Ann Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc.

In the letter written by Labor Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein it stated, “We have been informed that a number of companies in New York State utilize on-call shifts and require employees to report in some manner, whether by phone, text message or email, before the designated shift in order to learn whether their services are ultimately needed on site that day. We are examining this practice.”

Schneiderman believes these practices may be violating a New York law stating that employers who report for their scheduled shift on any day must be paid for a the minimum of four hours at the minimum hourly wage.

Retailers report that this system is needed to prevent over-staffing and under-staffing by adjusting the staff team based on the store’s traffic at the time. It also is a way for them to ensure they meet payroll especially during the slow periods of the year.

“Retailers would love to sit here on April 13 and say, ‘On April 27, the schedule is going to be X,’ but it really is inherently an unpredictable business. It’s a very complex issue, and it’s one that can’t be solved with something that says, ‘You will do this’,” the president and chief executive of the Retail Council of New York said Ted Potrikus reported by Bloomberg Business.

In the letter Gerstein combated this reasoning writing, “For many workers, that is too little time to make arrangements for family needs, let alone to find an alternative source of income to compensate for lost pay.”

He also wrote, “Workers who must be ‘on call’ have difficulty making reliable childcare and elder-care arrangements, encounter obstacles in pursuing their education and in general experience higher incidences of adverse health effects, overall stress and strain on family life than workers who enjoy the stability and certainty of knowing their schedules reasonable in advance of having to appear for work,”

The retailers have till May 4th to turn in their companies’ written policies that say staff have to be available for work without guaranteed hour and must report to the company beforehand. The companies’ reports must include sample schedules for the months in 2013-2014 and all time and payroll records where a worker was paid less than four hours on a shift.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the letter and got insight into many companies who received the letters opinions’ on the issue.

“We work hard to ensure our scheduling practices are fair for all of our employees,” said retailer Burlington.

Gap told the Journal it “is committed to establishing sustainable scheduling practices.”

National Employment Labor Project senior staff attorney, Tsedeye Gebreselassie believes this scheduling practice “is a real problem for workers” and states, “Employers know what their scheduling needs are and don’t need to create unnecessary havoc in their workers’ lives.”

Research done at the University of Chicago indicated that 41% of young adult workers receive their schedule a week or less in advance and half of the percentage has no say on the time their hours will be.

As of Monday April 13th, the Journal reported that Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, NELP and various other labor and advocacy groups met to discuss the need for clearer scheduling practices calling this “the largest inquiry ever into the scheduling practices of the retail sector—historic in both and depth.”

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