Victoria's Secret Ends Its Controversial "On-Call" Shifts

Photo: Jeff Blackler/REX Shutterstock.
There are plenty of frustrating things about working in retail, but arguably one of the worst aspects of the job is “call-in work.” For employees, this entails making themselves available (or “on-call”) during the day, and phoning the store during a designated window of time to learn if they're needed to go in — and, subsequently, can earn a day's wage. Not only is this widespread scheduling practice an obvious inconvenience, but the unpredictability makes it impossible for workers to arrange for childcare, make other plans, or even find another part-time job to earn additional wages. For employers, the strategy relies on the blurry line of what constitutes "work" — is it making oneself available for work, or physically showing up to work a shift? — and because there's no definite answer, it remains a cost-saving mechanism currently used by dozens of major retailers.

But there is good news: Victoria's Secret is making a major change. In 2014, a VS employee named Mayra Casas sued the company to end this practice, claiming it was illegal. According to a Buzzfeed investigation into the case earlier this month, Casas argued that workers should be compensated even if their call-in shift is canceled, just as if they were to report for that shift. Although the case was eventually dismissed in court (with the permission for lawyers to appeal), Buzzfeed noted yesterday that the retailer has still decided to end its call-in scheduling practices altogether.

Instead of requiring staffers to be on call for a block of time, Victoria's Secret will inform them in advance if upcoming shifts require "extensions" (in which they would have to stay late). According to Buzzfeed, employees can also sign up for extra hours if they want them, which will allow them to have better control over their schedule as well as better predict their income.

The controversy surrounding the Victoria's Secret case has since raised recognition about employment practices at other retail corporations. The New York State attorney general’s office recently began an investigation into the practices of 13 additional retailers, such as Target, Gap, and J.Crew, about their own scheduling requirements.

The New York Times
reports that Labor Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein wrote a letter to retailers last month, which stated, "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." The letter requested that the corporations provide their scheduling regulations, payroll records, and more by May 4.

According to New York State labor laws, “[a]n employee who by request or permission of the employer reports for work on any day shall be paid for at least four hours, or the number of hours in the regularly scheduled shift, whichever is less, at the basic minimum hourly wage.” This means that companies could be in possible violation of state law if they don't pay the required minimum wage of four hours if the employee reports to work. And, judging by this investigation, the state's attorney general appears concerned that this on-call system could serve as way to evade complying with employment law.

There's no update yet on how the recent change at Victoria's Secret will affect other retailers' scheduling strategies, but we hope this sets an example for fairer employment practices across the board. (Buzzfeed)
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