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For many retail workers, on-call shifts have been a reality of the job for years. However, increased scrutiny by professional organizations, as well as some major companies doing away with the practice, may spell the end of this scheduling practice.

If you don't know the current legal status of this practice, it may be beneficial to brush up on what exactly on-call shifts are, how they affect employees and why they are being subjected to such close scrutiny.

Understanding on-call scheduling
On-call shifts tend to be a fixture of the retail world more than in other industries. Essentially, an on-call employee may not know if he or she is working until the day of a shift. These employees typically have to call in to see if they are needed. It's a practice that allows employers the flexibility to handle staffing on a moment-to-moment basis, which is a valuable trait for restaurants and other food-service industries, as well as retail stores.

Unfortunately, this practice tends to not be popular among the workers themselves, as it makes it difficult to plan work schedules around other commitments. Additionally, with on-call scheduling, there may not be any guarantee of a certain number of hours a week, which can have significant financial implications as well.

The legal state of on-call
Despite ongoing protests from employees, there is currently no federal-level legislation governing employers' use of on-call scheduling. However, eight states and the District of Columbia have their own laws governing reporting time. For example, the Society of Human Resource Management noted that in the state of New York, employees who show up for work must be compensated for at least four hours of work, regardless of the length of the shift. Laws like this seek to protect hourly employees who may otherwise not get the hours they need.

Aside from legal considerations, many high-profile retailers have also begun doing away with their on-call practices. This may also encourage the practice further away from the norm in the retail industry. Most recently, CNBC reported that popular clothing retailer Urban Outfitters announced its plan to cease all on-call staffing nationwide. The Urban Outfitters brand includes the stores Anthropologie and Free People. Between the three chains, the company operates 518 stores in North America and employs 23,000 people.

For more information on how employment laws in the U.S. are changing, reach out to an HR outsourcing company. These firms can offer you top-level HR solutions without the associated cost of maintaining an in-house department.