Mark Powell Jun. 10, 2016, 9:45am

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan along with her counterparts in eight other states have sent letters to large retail corporations in a bid to pressure retailers and others to end their use of so-called “on-call” shifts for workers.

The corporations receiving communications from the attorneys general include such national retailers as American Eagle, Aeropostale and Zumiez, all of whom use the employee on-call shift technique, under which  employees must phone in hours before their scheduled shift to find out if they will be able to come into work that day or the next.

“Learning just hours before a scheduled shift whether you are going to work or not is an unacceptable and challenging business practice,” Madigan said in a press release. 

Eileen Boyce, a spokeswoman for Madigan's office, said Madigan and the other attorneys general "raised the issue of on-call scheduling with the hope that retailers across Illinois and the country would end the unfair business practice."

According to a 2014 University of Chicago report, about 41 percent of workers 26 to 41 years old receive their work schedule less than a week in advance.

“Workers – no matter where they work – should not be subject to that type of unpredictability and uncertainty in their lives," Madigan said in the release from her office.

Madigan said she believes on-call shifts make it tough for workers to arrange for child care or make health appointments far in advance, which can affect their livelihood.

Madigan has assembled a Workplace Rights Bureau in her office, whose purpose is to advance employment rights in the state, Boyce said, potentially including taking on such business practices as on-call shift scheduling.

"Our Workplace Right Bureau is focused on protecting and advancing the employment rights of Illinois residents," Boyce said. 

The on-call investigation puts large retail corporations on notice regarding their shift policies, Boyce said. New York District Attorney Eric Schneiderman’s investigation into on-call shifts caused Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, Pier 1 Imports and L Brands to drop the practice all together.

It is unclear whether the investigation in Illinois and other states will have the same outcome. While it may appear to be a simple solution - just drop on-call shifts - to many companies, relenting to government requests in this situation could lead to future intervention as well.

While the Illinois Retail Merchants Association declined to respond to inquiries from the Cook County Record, IRMA President Rob Karr has been quoted in other reports published in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, saying that too much regulation, and rule changes across the board, could be dangerous, because trying to make employers adopt a "one-size-fits-all" approach could harm both employers and employees, as well as consumers.

Other states and jurisdictions who have joined Illinois and New York in moving against retail on-call shift scheduling practices include California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

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