Five national retailers with Maryland stores have stopped "on-call" scheduling for workers under an agreement with the state attorney general's office.

Aeropostale, Carter's, Disney, PacSun and Zumiez stopped the practice after an inquiry from attorneys general in Maryland, Washington and seven other states raised concerns about the toll of such schedules on workers and families.

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Workers assigned to on-call shifts must call their employer about an hour or two before a scheduled shift to find out if they are required to work. If not, they are not paid. About 50,000 workers nationwide had been assigned such shifts.

"On-call shifts impose unnecessary hardships on retail workers and their families," Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said in an announcement Tuesday. "The commitments made by these companies will result in fairer treatment and more predictable schedules for many Maryland retail workers, allowing employees to make additional commitments to their families and to advance their personal and career goals."

The five retailers were among 13 large chains that received joint inquiry letters from the nine attorneys general in April seeking information and documents about on-call shift scheduling. The five companies had said they used on-call shifts but agreed to stop after discussions with the attorneys general's offices. None use the shifts now.

Eight other retailers — American Eagle, Payless, Coach, Forever 21, Vans, Justice Just for Girls, BCBG Maxazria and Tilly's Inc. — responded that they either had ended the practice or did not use on-call scheduling.

"For the workers of those companies, this is life changing," said Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit group that promotes workplace policies that encourage work/life balance. "The people most impacted tend to be women juggling child care or elder care responsibilities."

Many of those workers, Shabo said, earn low wages and find unpredictable schedules a barrier to working a second job, pursuing education to land a higher paying job or caring for family members.

She said the agreement builds on similar corporate decisions by retailers, such as Gap, as well as new policies in some cities and states. Laws improving workers' ability to secure predictable work schedules passed or took effect this year in Washington, Seattle and New Hampshire.

Greater predictability in schedules should boost employee retention, engagement and satisfaction, which should benefit employers, Shabo said.

She said on-call scheduling has been a particular problem in retail or other companies "that are trying to match their personnel and workforce costs against demand where there are big fluctuations."

Under the agreement, Carter's, Disney and Zumiez committed to notifying workers of schedules at least a week in advance of the start of the workweek, Frosh said.

The attorneys general's joint inquiry stemmed from concern over the impact of on-call shifts on employees and families. The April letter outlined ways unpredictable work schedules take a toll on employees, including making it difficult to arrange for child care and elder care and pursue an education. Such schedules can lead to adverse health effects and greater strain on family life, the letter said. Besides Maryland, it was signed by attorneys general in California, Connecticut, Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island.

Some states have laws regarding call-in pay.

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