Pier 1 Imports will end on-call shifts, where workers are expected to be available to work but don’t know if they’ll actually be asked to come in for a shift, in all of its stores in New York State starting January 17 and plans to end them nationwide by the end of March. The store also says it’s going to give workers’ their schedules at least ten days in advance.
The announcement comes in the wake of an investigation from New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. In April, he sent letters to 13 large retailers inquiring about whether their scheduling practices violate state law. New York law requires employers to give workers four hours’ worth of pay if they show up to work, even if they’re sent home before a shift ends. Schneiderman was looking into whether requiring employees to call in the night before or even a few hours before a shift would constitute the same thing.
In a statement about Pier 1’s decision to make changes, Schneiderman said, “I commend Pier 1 Imports for recognizing the importance of giving employees predictable schedules, which allow workers to plan for child care and other family responsibilities, enable workers to manage their household budgets more effectively, and avoid the negative consequences of unpredictable work hours.”
The company is the latest to respond to Schneiderman’s letters by changing its practices. Six other retailers — Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Body Works, The Gap, J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, and Victoria’s Secret — have also ended on-call shifts and many have promised to post schedules at least one week out. In his statement, Schneiderman said that the remaining companies that he contacted said they weren’t currently using on-call scheduling, which could indicate that the letters’ impact has reached its end.
The problem goes beyond those retailers, however. More than a quarter of retail workers across the country have irregular schedules — such as on-call shifts, two shifts in the same day, or rotating shifts — and 40 percent in New York City say they have no set hours week to week. Beyond that sector, at least 10 percent of the workforce is given on-call or irregular shifts, while another 7 percent get split or rotating ones. The variability makes it difficult to plan ahead for second jobs, education, child care, transportation, and other important considerations in their lives.
More changes have come without prodding from Schneiderman. Another large employer, Starbucks, recently said it would change its scheduling practices after an investigation by the New York Times. It promised to end “clopening” shifts, where employees have to close stores late at night and then return early in the morning to open, and give more notice of schedules. But some workers say they are still being made to work clopenings and get their schedules less than a week out.
Workers themselves have also taken action. Current and former employees have sued Forever 21 and BCBG in California, alleging that the requirement to be available for an on-call shift without the guarantee of getting paid violates a similar state law to that of New York.
The issue has even made its way into legislation. San Francisco passed a law that requires large retail chains to give their employees at least two weeks’ notice of their schedules and to pay them partially for on-call shifts even if they aren’t brought in to work. Members of Congress have introduced a similar bill, but it has yet to make it out of committee. Meanwhile, besides California and New York, six other states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island — and Washington, DC have laws that could also call into question the practice of on-call scheduling.