Wednesday 30 November 2022
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NY Attorney General’s Office Questions Prominent Retailers About Scheduling Practices

Blank calendarWhen it comes to problems with workplace productivity, many people will likely picture common distractions, such as cluttered spaces. After all, research shows that our collective messy desks and time spent looking for misplaced items costs corporate America $177 billion a year. However, in Albany, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is taking aim at a bigger problem than lost spiral bound graph paper notebooks and general disorganization: Schneiderman recently launched an inquiry into 13 major retailers over possible payment violations and other questionable practices.

So far, the state attorney general’s office has returned more than $17 million in restitution to about 14,000 workers who were cheated or underpaid by New York employers. The affected industries are diverse, ranging from fast food to construction, suggesting that low-wage workers across the state are disenfranchised and face a number of unnecessary challenges at their jobs. Now, the administration is examining retailers and attempting to determine whether the popular practice of putting employees on-call should be included on state pay requirements.

So far, letters have been sent to Gap Inc., Abercrombie and Fitch, J. Crew Group Inc., L. Brands, Burlington Coat Factory, TJX Companies, Urban Outfitters, Target Corp., Sears Holding Corp., Williams-Sonoma Inc., Crocs, Ann Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. These corporations are responsible for a number of prominent businesses in New York State, including Banana Republic, Old Navy, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls.

“We have been informed that a number of companies in New York State utilize on-call shifts and require employees to report in some manner, whether by phone, text message or email, before the designated shift in order to learn whether their services are ultimately needed on site that day,” Labor Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein wrote in the letters. “We are examining this practice.”

Gerstein requested that the companies submit their written policies requiring staff to be available and report for work in some manner, even when they have no guaranteed hours. She also asked for sample schedules from each calendar quarter ranging from 2013 to 2014 with on-call shifts, any computerized reports that track them, and all time and payroll records where any employee worked in New York and was paid for less than four hours. These documents are due by May 4, but this investigation is now expected to take longer than initially expected: the attorney general’s office says it has received more reports of employers setting shifts the night before or even mere hours in advance, extending the practice beyond the original 13.

“Workers who must be ‘on call’ have difficulty making reliable childcare and elder-care arrangements, encounter obstacles in pursuing their education and in general experience higher incidences of adverse health effects, overall stress and strain on family life than workers who enjoy the stability and certainty of knowing their schedules reasonably in advance of having to appear for work,” Gerstein wrote.

Currently, on-call practices are not covered by New York State labor laws. In response, many of the companies have spoken out in defense of their scheduling tactics. For example, Gap Inc. and TJX Companies, which controls TJ Maxx and Marshalls, spoke about their commitment to sustainable practices that benefit both the company and its staff. Meanwhile, Sears Holdings and JCPenney reported that they have policies against on-call scheduling for store associates and plan to comply with the information request. Other companies have yet to respond publicly to the letters, but a question lingers: is our drive for productivity putting New York State’s low-wage workers at risk? Only the results from the attorney general’s office will tell.