Urban Outfitters will end the practice of on-call scheduling and will also make sure its employees get their schedules at least a week ahead of time, according to the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The changes will be phased in beginning next month.
The brand becomes the fifth major retailer to end on-call shifts, in which employers require employees to be available to work but don’t guarantee that they will actually be asked to come in, after Schneiderman sent letters to a number of companies inquiring about whether their scheduling practices violate state law. In New York, employers are required to give workers four hours’ worth of pay if they come to work but then are sent home before the end of their shift, something that may run up against on-call scheduling. Changes have also been announced at The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, and Bath & Body Works.
So far no announcements have come from the other brands who received letters: Ann Inc. (owner of Ann Taylor), Burlington Stores, Crocs, J.C. Penney, J. Crew, Sears, Target, TJX (owner of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s), and Williams-Sonoma.
Scheduling has become a focus among other companies. Last year, Starbucks announced changes after it came under fire for its practice of “clopening,” or giving employees shifts to close stores late at night and then come back in a few hours later to open in the morning. It also said it would post schedules at least ten days in advance.
Yet reality may differ for workers even after all of these pledges. A recent report found that a quarter of surveyed Starbucks workers across the country were still made to work clopen shifts or had coworkers who had to work them and that half said they were getting their schedules a week or less in advance. It also noted that while the company has said that it is committed to taking employees’ availability into account when scheduling them, many say managers regularly disregard it.
The problem is also widespread throughout the retail industry. A recent survey of hundreds of managers and hourly employees in the service sector found that more than half of employees get their schedules a week or less in advance and about a third rarely get consistent work schedules. Another study of the retail workforce found that more than a quarter have irregular schedules that include on-call shifts, two different shifts in the same day, or rotating shifts. In New York City specifically, 40 percent of retail workers say they have no set hours week to week and a quarter have had to be on call.
Other states — California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC — have laws similar to New York’s that could potentially be used to challenge on-call scheduling. Still other places have taken a legislative approach to the problem: San Francisco passed a law requiring large retail chains to give at least two weeks’ notice of schedules and pay workers who are on call but not brought in to work, and a similar bill was introduced in Congress.