NEW YORK, NEW YORK (09/10/15) — On-call retail scheduling is an exploitative policy that retailers use to monopolize all or part of a workers’ day by mandating that an employee be available to work a shift on that day, but does not guarantee to let the employee work the shift s/he had to be available for, and (a) does not compensate the employee for waiting to see if they will work or not and (b) does not compensate the employee for the hours s/he would have worked if allowed to come in.

As discussed in The Nation, the practice works like this: retail employees are told to black out their schedule for blocks of time so that they are available for shifts they might have to work, with the caveat that they must call in or be available for a call from their manager shortly before the shift begins to find out if they are actually needed to work or not. Although retail is the industry that uses on-call scheduling the most, other types of employers do it too.

As a result, the employer manages to monopolize an employee’s time without paying them anything, while not letting the employee come to the workplace in person to find out they are not needed that day, which is a sneaky way to make an end run around possibly having to pay the worker for 4 hours for reporting to work and finding out they are not needed on the shift, as in NY. Doing this via telephone or text currently does not automatically trigger a work rule which mandates that the employer has to remit 4 hours of pay to an employee who reports for work and is told to go home (NYS law). Although this is according to NYS law, other states have similar laws.

The employer practice of “on-call” staffing is a true economic “zero sum game” – for every winner there is a loser; for every gain there is a loss. And it always results in the same winner (employer) and same loser (employee).

So, what if you are being taken advantage of by an employer that does this to you? Do you have any recourse? Some states have started to push back against this abusive practice. For more information, see Section 2 of this discussion.