The XX Factor

New York A.G. to Investigate Employers Who Keep Low-Wage Workers “On Call”

Is your Starbucks barista “on call”?

Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Last summer, a New York Times exposé by Jodi Kantor brought attention to corporate retailers that increasingly force erratic, unpredictable schedules on their employees; Kantor focused on a single mother named Janette Navarro, who struggled to absorb the impact of these labor-saving practices. Now New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman is getting involved. His office has sent letters to 13 major retail chains, including Target and the Gap, asking them how they schedule shifts for their retail employees. 

“Our office has received reports that a growing number of employers, particularly in the retail industry, require their hourly workers to work what are sometimes known as ‘on call shifts’ — that is, requiring their employees to call in to work just a few hours in advance, or the night before, to determine whether the worker needs to appear for work that day or the next,” the letter reads. Schneiderman’s office adds, “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.”

Kantor’s original New York Times piece demonstrated how painful on-call work can be, detailing the endless scrambling that Navarro had to do to juggle her job and child care for her daughter—a day-to-day hassle that strained relations with her family and helped break up her relationship with her boyfriend.

Schneiderman’s office is concerned that “a number of companies in New York State utilize on-call shifts and require employees to report in some manner … to learn whether their services are ultimately needed on-site that day.” New York state labor law says that employees who report for work but are sent home should be paid for four hours’ work or the regularly scheduled shift, “whichever is less.” Hopefully the A.G.’s message will help convince employers that an employee’s time off the clock is supposed to be just that.