Category Archives: time and attendance

The Struggles of Working in Retail

If you think you have it tough balancing the demands of child care, housekeeping and–maybe–night classes with a 9-to-5 office job, then try working in retail. A recently published study based on interviews with 463 employees at retail stores throughout New York City found that more than half learned their work schedules a week or less prior to the actual work week. Two in five said the number of hours they worked each week always or often varied, while one in five said they always or often had to be available for call-in shifts. The report, entitled “Discounted Jobs: How Retailers Sell Workers Short,” notes that “guaranteed work hours are no longer the normal and just ‘getting on the schedule’ has become the reward for job performance.”

So just imagine dealing with such unpredictability while trying to attend classes and/or raise a family. It should be noted that this study was financed by the Retail Action Project, a pro-union organization, and conducted by the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute, which also appears to have a union affiliation. Yet the rise of “just-in-time” scheduling at many stores, further enabled by technology, has been noted elsewhere for the negative effect it can have on workers’ lives.  A team of researchers from the University of Chicago examined workforce data and surveyed workers and managers at a nationwide women’s apparel chain (with the company’s full cooperation).  The report, published in fall 2010, noted that just-in-time scheduling makes it difficult for workers to count on reliable earnings or plan for family responsibilities.

By comparison, the researchers discovered that the more hours employees at the apparel chain worked and the less their hours fluctuated, the longer they remained employed at the firm, regardless of age and job status. Stores with smaller staff size and more hours per employee have lower turnover and higher retention, the report found, while employee survey findings indicate that more-predictable work schedules led to less work/family conflict and lower stress levels for the workers. Sounds like a recipe for improved workforce health and greater productivity, no?

Of course, retail by its very nature is less predictable than other industries. Yet the researchers found that “overall store hours fluctuate much less than is commonly believed.” They suggest that managers can add some stability to employees’ work hours by using “predictable unpredictability”–keeping employees’ work hours the same for 80 percent of the week while telling them to expect that 20 percent of their hours may vary week to week.” Not a perfect solution, but one that may enable stores to remain profitable while giving employees a chance for some balance.


Recession Appears to Have Bred Punctuality

Finally! A good-news recession story — for employers anyway. So suggests CareerBuilder in this release it put out today.

According to its latest survey, more workers are starting their work on time since the recession began. Mind you, the numbers aren’t hugely divergent: In 2010, 15 percent of workers said they arrive late to work once a week or more, down from 16 percent in 2009 and 20 percent in 2008.

But they’re trending down nevertheless. So are the numbers of workers calling out sick, according to a report I heard on the radio this morning that mentioned CareerBuilder’s study and few others.

“Whether it is a result of fear associated with the economy or just a shift in attitude, workers over the last few years are doing a better job of managing their schedules and getting into the office at the designated time,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.

Not sure if this puts a struggling economy at odds with the telework/workplace flexibility movement — some would like to call it a revolution. Some reports suggest that’s true too. 

At the same time, we’re also hearing flexible scheduling and support for work/life balance will help keep your top talent from fleeing for greener pastures when the recovered economy finally and really kicks in.

Hard to know what to do. I guess just support a results-oriented environment of looser structure/work from anywhere/anything goes … and simultaneously enjoy the fact that everyone’s showing up for work when they’re expected, afraid to rock an already rocking boat.


Your Attendance Policies Could Buy You a Lawsuit

A few (let’s call them troublesome) details about intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act came across my desk in an e-mail today that I decided to pass on because some of those details were news to me.

More importantly, the e-mail contained a link to an article by Anne E. Larson, chair of the labor and employment practice group at Chicago-based Much Shelist, that made it pretty clear some of those details would be news to HR practitioners as well, since they aren’t spelled out real clearly in the FMLA.

The note referred to a Jan. 6, 2010 federal court decision in the case of Jackson vs. Jernberg Industries Inc. that sided with the plaintiff, Matthew L. Jackson, who was discharged after numerous unscheduled absenses and late arrivals that he told his employer were related to a wrist condition without providing a written note from his doctor.

The company thought the combination of it’s doctor’s-note requirement and no-call/no-show attendance policy would support the firing. The court judge, in the Northern District of Illinois, said otherwise — that, in fact, Chicago-based Jernberg Industries’  doctor’s-note policy “interfered” with the plaintiff’s exercise of FMLA by requiring him to produce a doctor’s note after each absence when his physician had already provided a single certification supporting the need for intermittent FMLA leave for one year.

While conceding that FMLA regulations do not address the legality of doctor’s-note policies, the judge determined that recertification is the preferred method of verifying that an employee’s time off is FMLA-related. (The law specifies when an employer can request a doctor’s recertification. So does Larson, in her article.) There’s also a sticky wicket around going through the allowed ropes to verify a doctor’s recertification, which doesn’t do much to enhance the employer-employee relationship, Larson says.

The judge also cited other cases supporting an employee’s own “word” for verification of FMLA-related intermittent leave, but as Larson notes, “asking an employee to provide the reason for his or her absence … is not the same as ‘verifying’ the articulated reason.”

It’s worth a look. Larson goes on to discuss what this employer could and should have done — and what all employers can do in this situation — like simply discharing the plaintiff under its no-call/no-show policy alone, which would have been allowed under the FMLA.

Not only is it worth a look; it’s probably worth a conversation with your labor and employment counsel. You might want to update your employee handbook, too.