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OM in the News: Scrutinizing the Scheduling of Workers at Retail Chains

April 20, 2016
Aeropostale workers say they are being put under unnecessary stress.

Aeropostale workers say they are being put under unnecessary stress.

The attorneys general of 8 states are scrutinizing big retailers over their staffing practices and whether they require workers to show up or stay home with little notice, reports Fortune (April 13, 2016). Warning letters have been sent to Target, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Sears, J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, Williams Sonoma, and other chains they believe are using on-call scheduling.

On-call scheduling systems have made big retailers more nimble, allowing them to staff stores during busy times and save on payroll during slow days. The software used by many retailers forecasts staffing needs based on real-time sales and traffic information.

Some employers require on-call workers to check in by phone, email or text shortly before their shift. If the store is expected to be busy, they must come in; if things are slow, they are told not to report for work, and aren’t paid. These systems have been criticized by worker advocates, who say on-call scheduling makes workers’ lives and pay unpredictable.

The retailers are being asked to provide information about how they schedule employees, including whether they use software from vendors such as Kronos and Workplace Systems to schedule labor hours, or penalize employees who don’t follow on-call procedures. Schedule instability has emerged as a public policy issue in recent months, highlighted in hourly workers’ campaigns for higher wages. A 2015 report examined the prevalence of unpredictable schedules among young adults, and found that 41% receive their schedules a week or less in advance, and half have no input into the timing of their hours.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of on-call scheduling.
  2. Why has this become a public policy issue?
4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2016 4:13 pm

    Interesting. This reminds me of the book, ‘The Good Jobs Strategy,’ by Zeynep Ton (, the findings of which should be discussed every operations management class concerning retail. Also when I read this, I thought the phrase “warning letter” was a little strong – as far as I know, these practices are totally unregulated. According to the article the letters sound more like a request for information with some cautions about the practices. I enjoy these blog posts, thanks for the info!!

  2. April 21, 2016 11:46 pm

    Thank you for your observations and compliment, Professor Thorsen. This is indeed an ongoing issue that makes for a good conversation with students (many of whom are in this position) when covering Chapter 15.

  3. surender reddy permalink
    May 15, 2016 8:24 pm

    I would like to assign the article to my students for discussion. I use MyOMlab, but would like to do this outside MyOmLab in the Canvas LMS. Is there a way to cut and paste this article into another platform?

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