But not everyone agrees that the government should be involved in retailers' workplaces at such a granular level. While many have cheered the progress made toward improving retail workers' lives, others are standing firm on the idea that these changes should be left up to the individual retailers — not to politicians whom, they say, are overstepping the boundaries.
The National Retail Federation, the trade organization for the retail industry, has been one of the biggest opponents to government involvement in retail's day-to-day operations. David French, senior vice president for government relations at NRF, referred to legislation to end on-call scheduling as "an issue that seems to be a solution in search of a problem," adding that the retailers who abuse scheduling practices are "much more the exception than the rule."
He said many retail workers choose to work in these positions because they like the flexibility the industry offers, and legislation often has unintended consequences. For example, if a law were to pass in D.C. but not in Virginia, it would complicate a retailer's ability to schedule an employee to work across different stores in the chain. That, in turn, could limit the number of hours they work.
As it stands, the D.C. proposal would require employees receive their schedule 21 days in advance. French argued many employees aren't ready to decide which shifts they'll be available to work that far in advance. Finally, French questioned how the government is going to enforce certain aspects this legislation, calling into question San Francisco's efficacy so far.
"I don't think the city has figured out how to enforce certain elements of this law," he said. "This is city and local governments getting in the middle of employer-employee relationships at a level that they really shouldn't be engaged."
Seema Patel, deputy director at the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement in San Francisco, said that since the Retail Workers Bill of Rights went into effect in October, her office has been primarily focused on educating employers about how to be compliant, as well as teaching workers what constitutes a violation.
But following issuance of the law's rules late last week, come March 1, the office will be able to enforce any parts of the legislation implicated by these rules.
The office has a hotline number that employees can call if they feel they have been wronged. Then, if warranted, the office could decide to launch a formal investigation into the complaint.
According to the law, which broadly addresses unpredictable scheduling, a retailer that requires a change to a worker's schedule will owe them "predictability pay" in the range of one to four hours. The amount of predictability pay that will be owed depends on when the schedule change occurred, and how extreme the change was. The rate of pay is determined through a formula that takes into account the employee's base wage and past commissions.
The legislation also states that the agency can order relief "including but not limited to" an administrative penalty in the amount of $50 to each person whose rights were violated, for each day that the violation occurred.
"It will snowball if you don't stop," Patel said.
Gordon Mar, executive director for Jobs with Justice San Francisco, said the broader organization will continue pushing for national efforts, adding it would like to see federal action on these issues. He referenced a bill that was introduced in Congress last year, which he said was a means of calling attention to the issue. But facing gridlock at the federal level, the organization is more optimistic about action happening at the state or local level, he said.
No matter how it's tackled, on-call scheduling is not an easy thing to switch off. Though WorkJam's Kramer said most retailers are working to get ahead of headlines about their hiring practices, such changes require massive work at an organizational level, particularly when it comes to national chains.
For one, out-of-date systems mean that retailers currently have to use email, text messages or phone calls to get the word out that shifts are available last-minute, Kramer said. Likewise, workers looking to pick up an extra shift don't have an easy way to vocalize it. But with the proper technology in place, a retailer can take what was once an on-call shift and broadcast it as "open." That means any employee who wants to work an additional shift can volunteer.
"Predictable scheduling is a critical aspect of these workers' lives," Patel said. "Happier workers, I think, makes for a happier business."