Just last month, Urban Outfitters became the newest addition to a growing list of retailers that have ended the use of on-call scheduling for their employees. This practice, which requires employees to plan their lives around the mere possibility of having to work, has been subjected to an investigation from the New York Attorney General’s office and damning stories in the press.
Sure, the fact that Urban Outfitters and other retailers such as The Gap, J. Crew, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret are nixing an abusive practice is laudable. In addition to heading off potential legal trouble, their decisions over the past several months demonstrate that companies are listening to the needs of their employees and the questions being raised by customers.
But let’s not let these headlines fool us into thinking that all is well in the retail industry. Despite Urban Outfitters abandoning the practice, many large profitable restaurant and retail chains continue to intentionally deny employees more hours and use scheduling systems that wreak havoc on their ability to take care of their families.
For example, it’s common for employees to find out whether or not they need to work a shift mere hours before they are scheduled to start. In fact, almost half of the service industry employees surveyed in Washington, D.C. reported that they first learned of their work schedules less than one week in advance. Nearly one-third received less than 24 hours’ notice of schedule changes.
And the problem goes beyond not knowing when you’ll work. It’s also about not knowing how much you’ll work. Plenty of companies force their employees to keep their schedules open with the possibility of being scheduled full-time, but then only assign and compensate workers for part-time hours. And being sent home before the end of a scheduled shift is then passed off as a natural part of the job.
These practices add a whole new level of volatility to people’s lives. Not knowing when you’ll work from week to week can make it difficult or men and women to arrange child care, pursue education or training, or hold down a second job to make ends meet. It’s also next to impossible to budget when you don’t know if you’ll be scheduled for 10 hours or 40, or if you’ll be sent home an hour early each day.
Luckily, we’re making strides so that the lives of the people who ring up our purchases and serve our food are less turbulent.
In San Francisco, community leaders, labor advocates and retail employees came together and enacted the first set of comprehensive and meaningful standards that would address this issue. Now, when an employer cancels an on-call shift with less than 24 hours’ notice, they must pay the employee two to four hours. The new rules also mandate that schedules are posted two weeks ahead of time and that the nation’s biggest and most profitable retailers must provide part-time employees with more access to hours before hiring additional part-time workers. Acknowledging that scheduling and hours are just part of the picture, the organizers of this initiative also worked to successfully raise San Francisco’s minimum wage to $15.
This victory has inspired similar efforts in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts. On the national level, the Schedules That Work Act would ensure that everyone has the right to request a predictable schedule.
And so, as this momentum grows, business owners would be wise to look to their colleagues to see the benefits of consistent scheduling for both their employees’ livelihoods and their business’s productivity.
Take Costco: in addition to offering better rates of pay and benefits than competitors, it guarantees many part-time employees a minimum of 24 hours and provides two weeks of advance notice for scheduling. As a result of these policies, the company boasts one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry.
Small business owners have also adopted stable scheduling. Tony Lucca, the owner of two D.C. restaurants, gives his employees their schedule a month in advance and uses an online scheduling system that gives employees a say in when they work. And Gina Schaefer, the owner of a number of Ace Hardware stores in the District, makes sure shifts are made available to part-time employees first before hiring anyone new.
We know that it is possible for businesses to be productive while allowing their employees to lead stable, meaningful lives. So yes, let’s cheer on the companies who are ending on-call scheduling. But as Black Friday approaches, let’s not forget that the real change will come when all families in our community achieve the strong wages, reliable hours, and sane schedules that they need in order to build a good life.