Pushing Back on Just-in-Time Scheduling

In September 2014, this blog asked the question: “Is Just-in-Time Scheduling Good for Business?”  Twenty months later, it seems like that question has been answered and our prediction that retailers may be legally required to alter their Just-in-Time scheduling practices has come true, at least in New York and San Francisco.

Just-in-Time (JIT) scheduling or “on-call scheduling” is a labor practice that closely links labor supply to consumer demand in many retail stores.  JIT scheduling requires employees to call ahead before shifts to determine if they will be needed at the store, to leave early if business is slow, and to make themselves available for last minute shifts.  This unpredictability of working hours causes employees’ schedules to be unreliable and has ramifications for workers’ childcare, transportation, class schedules, second jobs, and budgets.

After a New York Times report on Starbucks’ use of JIT scheduling for employees and the disruption it caused in workers’ lives, Starbucks announced that it would post schedules at least ten days in advance and provide store employees with more consistent schedules from week to week.  In April 2014, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent letters to thirteen major retailers, including Urban Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, and J.Crew, questioning the practice of keeping workers on-call for last-minute shifts and citing possible violations of New York’s requirement to pay hourly staff for at least four hours when they report to work.  New York is one of eight states and the District of Columbia that has “reporting time” laws on the books.  However, as Attorney General Schneiderman noted, many workers are not aware of these laws.

In response to both Attorney General Schneiderman’s letters and growing public concern about JIT scheduling practices, many major retailers have announced their commitment to provide advance notice of schedules to workers, to limit the use of on-call shifts, and to provide partial payment to those employees who are sent home early.  Bath & Body Works and its affiliate Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Williams-Sonoma, and J. Crew have all announced that they are ending on-call shifts nationwide.  Urban Outfitters initially announced that it would discontinue on-call shifts at its New York locations, and then three weeks later promised to discontinue the practice nationwide at its portfolio of 518 stores, including Anthropologie and Free People.

In addition to retailers promising to curb the use of JIT scheduling, academic and legal solutions are also being sought.  Gap is working with the Center for WorkLife Law at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco to study the effects of JIT scheduling on worker turn-over, and to determine whether providing employees with stable schedules improves employee retention and customer service.  San Francisco passed the Retail Worker’s Bill of Rights, which went into effect on July 3, 2015, and only applies to businesses with 20 or more locations globally and 20 or more workers in San Francisco.  In 2015, legislators in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Oregon introduced bills to curb onerous scheduling practices, but business owners have been pushing back through lobbying and other efforts, and to date none of these bills addressing scheduling practices have been enacted into law.

We suspect this area may attract the attention of other jurisdictions in the coming months.  We will continue to monitor this issue and will post additional updates as new laws come into effect or additional retailers announce changes to their scheduling practices.

Related topics: Employment, Retail