Unfair workplace scheduling practices negatively affect employees

by STACY JOHNSON//Editorial Assistant


As Americans, when we think of labor law concerns, many of us tend to think of sweatshops and poor working conditions in developing countries.

However, labor law issues affect a number of people in the United States every day.

Will-call (aka on-call) scheduling is a common form of shift planning used for hourly positions, particularly within the retail and food service industries.

Will-call shifts require employees to call the workplace at a particular time, typically a few hours in advance, in order to find out whether the employer will allow them to work that shift.  Usually, this depends on the business’s sales numbers for the day up to that point.  This is how the employer determines if they can justify the cost of paying an hourly employee to be on the clock.

If business is booming and the workplace is busy, the employee will be required to report to work.  If sales have been low for the day, the employee will most likely be told not to show up for the will-call portion of the shift.

Several states have laws in place which prohibit these kinds of company policies.  After a 2015 inquiry into the scheduling practices of 15 major retailers gained publicity, several large corporations voluntarily agreed to end their will-call scheduling policies at a national level.  Unfortunately, many still persist.

Often, in combination with will-call scheduling, when sales numbers are low, employers will send workers home early without notice.  Sometimes this is left to the discretion of managers (who may receive a monetary bonus for low labor and high sales numbers,) and sometimes it’s pre-determined by computer software and a blanket company policy.

Many college students must work hourly jobs outside of school to make ends meet.  Busy students need to plan their days as carefully as possible.  Our schedules are more packed than ever before.

Working parents need to plan and make arrangements for their children, and that can be nearly impossible to do without hardship when these kinds of methods are employed to maximize company profit.

Some employers that participate in the practice justify it by claiming that an employee need not be dressed and ready to report to work in order to simply make a phone call, so they are not entitled to any pay.  However, this policy still monopolizes the employee’s time without providing compensation.  The time that must be set aside for will-call shifts and shifts that end abruptly without notice could otherwise be used to work a second job, attend a class, save on child care costs, or any number of other activities that would benefit the individual, as well as society, by producing more educated, well-rounded citizens.

Will-call scheduling and unpredictable labor cuts place an undue burden on employees, who can no longer accurately predict how many hours they will work (and by extension, how much they will be paid) each week.

Retail and food service industry leaders have argued that they need to send employees home early or have them forfeit some portion of their shifts on a regular basis, due to the unpredictable nature of customer traffic to their businesses.  But employees should have as much right to be able to predict their pay as companies have to predict their profits.

What incentive do workers have to do what’s best for the companies employing these tactics when the businesses refuse to consider their basic needs?  Employees are being treated like a commodity, but they are expected to act loyally toward the company.

Once practices like these become widespread, other companies follow suit in order to remain competitive, and it becomes a new industry standard—in this case, a harmful one.  When these issues become the rule rather than the exception, it’s more difficult for employees to stand up for their rights.  Refusing to work for companies that treat workers this way leaves virtually no employment options.  As a result, the abusive practices become further entrenched and normalized within our working culture.

While unemployment is a recognized problem in this country, underemployment is a less clear-cut issue.  These scheduling practices contribute to the largely invisible plight of the working poor, and they are completely legal in the state of Texas.

Will-call scheduling and mid-shift labor cuts amount to exploitation of workers who may need their pay too desperately to refuse any meager number of hours they could potentially be offered.  It provides financial benefit to employers at cost to their employees, and at great cost to society as a whole.

Neglecting the needs of employees is detrimental to our country’s economy and livelihood.  Will-call scheduling does not take into account that our workforce is made up of actual people with obligations and needs, and is a practice that needs to be reconsidered.

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