Most people know that doctors and other salaried practitioners may be on-call to provide treatment or services. This kind of scheduling system makes sense for emergencies and other special situations, which could be addressed in an employment contract.
On-call employment may not be appropriate in every situation, though, or even legal. In fact, 13 major retailers have been asked by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to respond to questions regarding on-call work shifts. In a letter sent to JC Penney, Gap Inc. and Target Corp., among others, the attorney general states that on-call staffing practices do not give workers enough time to make family arrangements or find some other way to earn money on days when the workers are not called in.
With some on-call systems, workers are required by their employers to check in by text, phone call or email not long before a potential shift is scheduled. The employee may not know whether to show up for work until a few hours before the start time.
The attorney general is also trying to determine whether on-call scheduling violates New York State law, which says that shift workers must be paid at least the minimum wage for a minimum of four hours for each shift.
The retailers have been asked to provide information about their on-call scheduling processes and whether employees are penalized for not following the procedures.
According to Reuters, Target has already stated that its employees are made aware of their work schedules 10 days in advance of a given work week, and that the company doesn't schedule on-call shifts.
For more on state and federal labor law, please see Serrins Fisher's New York Minimum Wage overview.