8 States (+DC) Get It: Women Workers are Hurt When Employers are Flakes

There’s nothing more annoying than someone tentatively committing to plans, forcing you to put your life on hold, and then canceling at the last minute. When a friend does this we get annoyed and call them a “flake.” But, for some reason, when an employer does it—i.e. requires an employee to be available for a shift but confirms whether she actually has to report to work only hours in advance—it’s called “on-call scheduling” and has been treated as an acceptable “business practice,” even when there is no business necessity for the practice.
Woman Analyzing BillFor low-wage workers—two-thirds of whom are women—this practice is not simply annoying; it can be devastating to their economic security. For example, a working mother at a clothing store who only finds out if she has to work a shift an hour or two ahead of time will still be required to pay for child care and forego working a second job, even though she might not make any income that day. Such unpredictable scheduling can leave workers with no clue whether they will be able to meet their basic expenses from week to week or month to month, and when imposed on working parents, can harm their children’s development.
Fortunately, 8 states and the District of Columbia seem to get it. This week,  New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent letters to the following large retailers regarding their harmful use of on-call shifts: American Eagle, Aeropostale, Payless, Disney, Coach, PacSun, Forever 21, Vans, Justice Just for Girls, BCBG Maxazria, Tilly’s, Inc., David’s Tea, Zumiez, Uniqlo, and Carter’s.  The letters made clear to the retailers that on-call shifts take a toll on employees, may run afoul of certain state labor laws, and are “not a business necessity, given that operations can be, and successfully have been, structured to address unexpected absences and unanticipated fluctuations in business volume in other ways.” The letters were signed by representatives of the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island, where many of these retailers have locations.
Last year, the New York Attorney General’s office launched a similar inquiry into the on-call scheduling practices of brands including Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, J.Crew, Urban Outfitters, Pier 1 Imports, and L Brands (parent company of Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret). In response to the inquiry, all of these brands agreed to end on-call shifts.
What’s interesting about this new inquiry is that almost all of the retailers that received letters from the attorneys general sell items targeted at women’s and girls’ retail happiness. Yet their unpredictable workplace practices are harming the lives and livelihood of the women and girls they are marketing to. In the words of Alanis Morissette, who I worshiped in the years I shopped at Aeropostale, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”
Let’s hope these employers swiftly shape up and end on-call scheduling.