On Call and Earning Minimum Wage

Photo: WTForever21 / Flickr

One of our readers writes in and says:

It would be really cool if you did something about part-time jobs that only pay minimum wage but expect their employees to be on call as if they’re ER doctors. I’d write something myself except I’m too disgruntled and inarticulate. I don’t know if you welcome suggestions like this but I figured someone on staff may have some similar experiences. (I can’t be the only one!) — K.

I’ve had the experience of needing to clear my schedule and be at home in case I was needed to come in for a shift when I worked in retail during high school and my first two years in college, specifically for Gap Inc. (I worked in the baby store). On call shifts were common during the holiday season because managers wanted to make sure they could have additional employees come in if stores got really busy, but not have to pay them if they weren’t needed. I didn’t mind this so much then because the money I earned from my part-time retail job was used to offset the cost of my education, rather than money I needed to make rent. But, now, as an adult with regular household bills and monthly student loan payments, this wouldn’t fly at all.

And that’s the real issue: Lots of people out there need to work every hour they can get to earn enough money to pay their bills, and on call shifts that get canceled prevent them from making enough money or scheduling work somewhere else to fill in the gap in their work schedule. As Buzzfeed’s Sapna Maheshwari and Cora Lewis reported in June, this has had employees at retail stores like Victoria Secret filing a class-action lawsuit arguing that these unpredictable shifts are a form of wage theft:

Victoria’s Secret employees may be scheduled for more than 30 hours of work across five days in a week, but ultimately work only 10 of those hours, the complaint said. Aside from the logistical hassle of planning life around such an unpredictable schedule, it makes earning a living wage even tougher. At a $9 minimum wage, the difference between 30 scheduled hours and the 10 actually worked turns out to be earning $270 versus $90 in a week, or $1,080 against $360 in a month.

A few weeks after this story was published, Victoria’s Secret ended their practice of scheduling their employees for on call shifts, and at the end of August, so did Gap Inc., my former employer.

But on call shifts are still a common experience for readers like K. who see their paychecks fluctuate depending on the hours they’re able to work every week.

If you have any kind of experience with this, we’d love to hear from you below.

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