Thirteen Retailers Questioned by NY Attorney General About Worker Scheduling

(Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

Thirteen retailers, including Gap Inc., Target Corp. and Abercrombie & Fitch, are being asked by the New York attorney general’s office about unpredictable worker-scheduling practices.

In a letter sent to the retailers Friday, the attorney general’s office said it received reports that a growing number of employers, particularly in the retail industry, were requiring hourly employees to work on-call shifts.

This type of scheduling requires workers to call in just a few hours in advance or the night before to see if they need to come in to work. If they are not needed, the employee will receive no pay for the day, according to the letter.

“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 the lost pay,” the letter says.

A New York state law requires that employees who are asked to come into work must be paid for at least four hours at minimum wage or the number of hours in the regularly scheduled shift, whichever is less, even if the employee is sent home.

The letter was also sent to J.Crew Group Inc.; L Brands; Burlington Stores Inc.; the TJX Companies Inc.; Urban Outfitters Inc.; Sears Holdings Corp.; Williams-Sonoma Inc.; Crocs Inc.; Ann Inc., which owns Ann Taylor; and J.C. Penney Corp. Inc.

The letters ask the retailers for more information about how they schedule employees for work, including whether they use on-call shifts and whether the companies use computerized scheduling programs. These requests are just to gather information, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said.

In a 2011 industry survey of New York City retail workers by the Retail Action Project and City University of New York, Murphy Institute, 23 percent said they “sometimes” had to be available for on-call shifts, and 20 percent said they “always or often” had to be available.

Rachel Deutsch, an attorney at the Center for Popular Democracy, said on-call scheduling can make it difficult for workers to arrange child care or pick up a second job.

“These are folks that want to work,” she said. “They’re ready and willing to work, and some weeks they might get no pay at all even though they set aside 100 percent of their time to work.”

In a statement, Sears said, “Sears Holdings’ does not use on-call scheduling for store associates. That said, we will fully cooperate with the New York Attorney General’s office’s requests.”

Gap said in a statement that the company has been working on a project with the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law to examine workplace scheduling and productivity and will see the first set of data results in the fall.

“Gap Inc. is committed to establishing sustainable scheduling practices that will improve stability for our employees, while helping to effectively manage our business,” said Laura Wilkinson, company spokeswoman.

TJX spokeswoman Doreen Thompson said in a statement that the company works to develop schedules that serve the needs of employees as well as the organization.

“We are very proud of our strong corporate culture and our core values of acting with integrity and treating our associates with dignity and respect, which have been at the heart of this company since day one,” she said.

Target said in a statement that the company’s scheduling practices do not include on-call shifts and that the company builds schedules around employee availability.

“Team member schedules are available 10 days prior to the start of a work week and can be reviewed remotely,” Target said. “Prior to and following the posting of the schedule, team members are able to discuss shifts and request changes with store leadership.”

The remaining companies did not respond immediately to requests for comment.