Some businesses require hourly employee on-call scheduling (also known as on-call shifts) to ensure there’s just enough workers to meet labor requirements for shifts. This means employees have to put their lives on hold, calling in a couple hours before coming to work to see whether not they’re actually needed for a particular shift.
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For the employer, this appears to save money because during slow times labor costs can be minimized by telling an employee not to come in for all or part of a shift. And if the business has a high turnover, such as fast food restaurants, it may make sense to double book employees with the expectation one will quit or simply not show up.
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For example, if two employees scheduled for the same position on a shift call in and expect to work, it’s easy to tell one he isn’t needed while requiring the other to show up.
Is On-Call Scheduling Illegal?
As pointed out by Daniel Wiessner in “Retailers to drop on-call scheduling amid state probes,” some states’ attorneys general contend on-call scheduling violates applicable wage laws because it requires hourly employees to perform some work (e.g. calling in one or more times) without getting paid. That’s in addition to the moral issue of putting workers in limbo where they cannot make concrete plans for a day they may or may not be working.
Implementing On-Call Shifts Effectively
If you’re going to use on-call scheduling in your business where it’s legal to do so, be sure to compensate the employee for the burden of being placed in limbo and try to keep such scheduling to a minimum per employee (e.g. no more than one shift per pay period). Just as you don’t want customers to get your goods and services for free, don’t steal your employees’ lives away by abusing their work schedules.
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Alternative To On-Call Schedules
Although wage and hour laws vary by state, a better method to meet labor requirements is to replace on-call shifts with a financial incentive making it worthwhile for an employee who has a day off to want to come in and work an extra shift if requested to do so by management. Because the act is voluntary and compensated, employee productivity is likely to increase, legal risks are minimized, and the employer is less likely to abuse the system when there is a direct additional cost to making a call for more labor.
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An experienced business lawyer can help you avoid the legal pitfalls of on-call scheduling and other employee wage and hour practices plus draft your employment agreements and other business contracts as needed.