New York’s attorney general is investigating several major retailers on how they set the schedules for their hourly workers. Thirteen retail chains received letters last week from the attorney general asking for information about their “on call shifts.” On call shifts are shifts that employees are given very little notice about – they may find out they are scheduled to work just hours before the shift. If they don’t end up working during that shift, they aren’t paid. The 13 retailers that received letters include Target, Sears, Gap, Ann Taylor, Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, Williams Sonoma, L Brands, TJX, Urban Outfitters, Burlington Stores, J.C. Penney, and Crocs.

According to the office of the attorney general, it has received reports that a growing number of retailers are using on call systems to manage their staff so that when they are busy they have more workers and when it’s slow there are fewer. This type of scheduling can make it very hard for workers to manage their other obligations, such as school schedules and child care. The on call shifts can also add to an employee’s stress a great deal.

Under New York law, if employees report for a scheduled shift, they must be paid at least four hours of minimum wage. Currently, eight states and Washington, D.C. have similar laws. Using on call shifts in which an employee is only notified a few hours before they are scheduled that they don’t need to come in is one way to get around state law, and for the retailer to therefore avoid paying the employee. Retailers who were asked about scheduling said that they treat their employees well with regards to scheduling, and Gap said they are working with researchers on workplace scheduling and productivity issues.

Last year, San Francisco passed a law similar to the one in New York. It requires the city’s large chain retailers to post workers’ schedules at least two weeks ahead of time. If unexpected changes are made to their schedules, or if they are required to be on call and their shifts are canceled, they are owed supplemental pay. Importantly however, the law only applies to retail and food chains with 11 or more locations nationally.

Scheduling issues, as well as pay issues, can be a huge problem for hourly wage workers. It can be difficult for those with reliable work schedules and steady paychecks to make appropriate childcare arrangements and to implement a budget, but for those who don’t have reliable hours at work, managing their money and planning for childcare and other responsibilities may seem impossible. When employers use on call schedules or change an employee’s schedule at the last minute, it is done to save the employer some money but may wreak havoc on the employee’s personal life.

It’s a positive step in the right direction that cities and states are starting to recognize the damage that erratic work schedules can do to an employee’s personal life, and are starting to pass laws to help workers. San Francisco is one of the cities that has made it harder on some employers to cancel workers at the last minute.

If you are an employee in the San Francisco area, and you believe that your work schedule violates the law, you should speak with an employment law attorney. Your employer may believe that you are not aware of your legal rights. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that any employee whose legal rights are being violated should stand up to their employer. Call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland wage and hour violations attorney, at 415-896-1000 or 510-645-1000 to learn more about how she can help you with your employment situation.

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