‘On-Call’ Proposal Not Popular Locally

On-call workers could soon receive pay even if they’re called off a shift, according to new regulations recently released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Some local business owners, though, said they want to see more information how it might impact operations.

Cuomo touted the new regulations this week, which cover those who have “just-in-time,” “call-in” or “on-call” scheduling. The regulations would establish a two-week standard of notice for scheduling, and employers would have to provide two hours of extra pay for last-minute assignments.

The regulations also expand existing reporting pay of at least four hours to also include last-minute cancellations and assignments, and on-call shifts that require workers to be on standby to come to work.

The regulations, however, do not apply to employees who are covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement which provides for call-in pay, according to the state Department of Labor.

“In New York, we have achieved nation-leading success in workers’ rights and we will continue to fight to protect all hard-working New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “The regulations advanced by the Department of Labor will increase fairness for workers and allow employers to retain flexibility.”

The Business Council of New York state said its looking into the proposed regulations.

“The Business Council is reviewing this proposed rule with our affected members, and will submit comments and recommendations during the public review period,” said Heather C. Briccetti, president and CEO of the council. “We appreciate that the rule reflects several concerns we raised during the department’s public hearings, including the exemption of higher-earning employees and providing relief during emergency circumstances.

“To the extent this state rule pre-empts inconsistent local laws, it will simplify compliance efforts by employers.”

Briccetti said the guidelines do represent what could be seen as another “administrative and financial hurdle” for New York businesses that other states don’t have. She said due to the regulations, employers with part-time and/or lower-income employees may have to significantly modify their scheduling practices, all while dealing with the costs of an increased minimum wage and the new paid family leave act.

Todd Tranum, Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, echoed Briccetti’s sentiments, stating the new regulations could have businesses walking a tightrope.

“We recognize the importance of employee work-life balance, however the new employee scheduling requirements create yet another administrative and financial hurdle for employers in New York State,” Tranum said. “At a time when businesses are absorbing the cost of increased minimum wage and managing the complexity of new family leave act, the new scheduling requirements are one more burden that make it more difficult to do business in New York state.”

Likewise, Sam Fitch, owner of AJ Texas Hots on Foote Avenue and Apokolips Comics in Jamestown, said the regulations could very well put a strain on small businesses, even if they don’t have “on-call” workers per se. In one likely scenario, Fitch said in the event of inclement weather, like a large snow storm, his restaurant would probably close early and some workers would have to be called off.

“If this was in effect, we’d have to pay four employees for two hours apiece,” Fitch said.

Fitch also said having a two-week advance notice of scheduling is “egregious,” due to the nature of scheduling. However, Fitch said at his establishments, they don’t “pigeon-hole” anyone with a schedule and try to be flexible for the needs of their employees.

Fitch said he understands that the regulations could protect employees in situations where someone is a bad manager or a bad business owner, but in most scenarios, it would be harmful to businesses that don’t fall into those categories. He said it is also important for those who make the regulations to look at how it will impact business owners and realize that paying out extra money for hours that aren’t worked isn’t just the extra money in a paycheck, but also includes other increased costs as well. For example, an employer has to match the medicare and social security payments made by employees.

“It’s not just that amount, it’s always more for the business owner,” Fitch said. “That’s where you inevitably get the rising costs of goods and services. There’s so much more to it.”

Fitch said there should be a reasonable timeframe to have to notify employees of canceled shifts and other such issues, but the regulations should consider the impact they would have on small and local businesses, too.

The regulations are subject to a 45-day comment period after publication in the Nov. 22 state register. To submit a comment on the proposed regulations, send it to hearing@labor.ny.gov.