CBS Money Watch: Another retailer pulls plug on on-call scheduling

CBS MoneyWatch, September 9, 2015

by Kate Gibson

Five months after New York's state attorney general launched a probe of how some of the country's biggest retailers use technology to schedule their workers, another chain is set to end the controversial practice known as on-call work.

"Following discussions with my office, L Brands' (LB) subsidiary Bath & Body Works has agreed to end on-call shifts for employees in all U.S. stores next month," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Wednesday in a statement.

The agreement comes after the Columbus, Ohio-based retailer made the same moves at youth-focused retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) and underwear purveyor Victoria's Secret.

L Brands, which operates nearly 1,600 Bath & Body Works stores in the United States, declined to comment. A company source, however, said the company is phasing out on-call scheduling.

The company's move drew limited praise from one group advocating for workers, which said the change, while positive, still leaves troublesome policies in place.

"Since July, they have been relying on shift extensions at Victoria's Secret, which are on-call shifts by another name," Erin Hurley, an organizer for Rise Up Georgia in Atlanta, a partner of the Fair Workweek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy. "While we celebrate the step forward, we call on L Brands to take a definitive step toward a fair workweek by giving workers shifts with definite start and end times, and enough hours to support their families," added Hurley, a former Bath & Body Works employee.

Schneiderman in August said Gap (GPS) would this month end its policy of requiring workers to remain on-call for short-notice shifts after his office launched an inquiry, requesting information about scheduling practices from 13 retailers, including Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and Bath & Body Works.

At the time, the attorney general said his office had received reports of more employers setting shifts the night before or even just a few hours in advance. The practice left workers with little time to arrange for childcare or work other jobs.

In New York, if workers shows up for a shift that they end up not being needed for, they're legally entitled to four hours of pay. Schneiderman's investigation delved into possible violations of that law.

"Employees deserve stable and reliable work schedules to adequately plan for childcare, transportation and other basic needs," Schneiderman said, adding that his inquiry had yielded "positive results for tens of thousands of workers."

Roughly a dozen states and a few municipalities have passed legislation addressing on-call scheduling, and a bill, the Schedules That Work Act, was reintroduced on Capitol Hill in July, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, among the sponsors.

"You can't win what you don't fight for," Warren told a news conference in acknowledging that the bill stood little chance of being enacted by the Republican-led Congress.