On-call scheduling has long caused headaches for employees in the retail industry, but recent scrutiny into the practice means employers should keep their eyes open for possible restrictions placed on these kinds of  shifts.

This practice is mostly used by big box retailers across the country, but some local retailers use the practice to cut their labor costs. While no states have laws against on-call scheduling, high-profile court cases are causing all retailers to take a closer look at their scheduling practices.

How is on-call staffing problematic?

The biggest complaint from employees regarding on-call scheduling is that it’s extremely problematic. Rules require employees to be prepared for a shift they may not end up working. Ultimately, that means they can’t count on those wages for living expenses and must look for a reliable job somewhere else.

There are also questions about the legality of on-call scheduling. Reporting time pay laws obligate employers to pay employees for a minimum number of hours any time they report for a scheduled shift.

Luckily for retailers, these laws exist in only eight states: California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon (minors only), and Rhode Island.

What does the law say about on-call scheduling?

The laws aren’t clear on the legality of on-call scheduling. The Attorney Generals in all eight states with reporting time pay laws are trying to figure out if these rules apply to on-call employees.

A ruling is expected in California court later this year, for example, to determine if Victoria’s Secret management’s use of on-call shifts are legal under the state’s reporting time pay laws. In the filing, on-call scheduling is referred to as wage theft, and the question is raised whether or not employers have the right to cancel an hourly employee’s scheduled shift with only short notice. Other retailers under fire include American Eagle Outfitters, Coach Inc., and Aéropostale.

One of the few cities to address this issue so far has been San Francisco. When the San Francisco Retail Workers Bill of Rights went into effect on July 3, 2015, it effectively outlawed on-call scheduling in the city. Under this law, all employers must assign scheduled shifts two weeks in advance.

How does this affect local retailers?

The final ruling in California could set the precedent for the passing of other similar laws in other states. You may not have to worry about employees taking you to court, but you should be concerned with public opinion if you want to attract the right talent for your store.

If you’re already backing up understaffed shifts with on-call workers, now’s the time to start looking into alternatives. Consider shift scheduling software that will forecast your labor costs. Instead of guessing what kind of coverage you’ll need, labor forecasting tools suggest the best ways to schedule your employees.