Clopenings, Callouts, and Sexual Harassment: SMLR Report Reveals the Hidden Impact of Unstable Scheduling

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (January 30, 2020) – On-call and unpredictable scheduling forces New Jersey women to scramble for last-minute child care, cancel doctor’s appointments, drop out of college, and even tolerate sexual harassment at work in order to support themselves and their families, according to a report issued today by the Rutgers Center for Women and Work at the School of Management and Labor Relations.

“Unstable scheduling disproportionately affects women, especially women of color, and moms pay the biggest price,” said Elaine Zundl, research director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work and co-author of the report. “We know from past research that women in the service sector earn less than men, and we know that mothers face a wage differential because of their caregiving responsibilities. Today’s report shows that unstable scheduling adds another layer of hardship on top of pay inequity.”

The practice of unstable scheduling includes setting up different shifts each week so that workers do not have dependable days off; requiring employees to be on-call; posting or changing schedules at the last minute; and denying time-off requests. Rutgers researchers conducted focus groups with dozens of New Jersey women in three industries where unstable scheduling is most prevalent—retail, food service, and logistics—to better understand the impact. They discovered:

  • Caregiving Challenges: Caring for children and elderly parents gets complicated when work schedules are erratic. “I actually got fired at one point, because I kept calling out,” one woman told the researchers. “I was just having a lot of problems at home taking care of my dad.”
  • Dropping Out: Unstable schedules force some women to stop taking college courses, snarling their career advancement. “I couldn’t pick school over work because otherwise my family, we’d be homeless again,” another woman said.
  • Financial Strain: Creating a family budget proves difficult when women cannot depend on working the same number of hours each week. Working extra shifts around the holidays jeopardizes public assistance because December earnings are often used to determine eligibility.
  • Last Out, First In: Stressful “clopening” shifts involve closing the store late at night and opening it early the next morning. For some women, this happens on a weekly basis.
  • On-Call: Some employees are required to maintain open availability and call each morning to ask if they are needed. For one woman in the focus group, this adds up to 133 on-call hours every week.
  • Request Denied: Women overwhelmingly agree that their employers rarely honor time-off requests. In some cases, managers try to bully them out of using earned sick days for illness or injury.
  • Sexual Harassment: Many women feel compelled to overlook sexual harassment by co-workers and customers for fear their boss would cut or change their hours as punishment for speaking up.

The women who pack and ship online purchases in New Jersey’s warehouses face some of the most precarious circumstances, the report finds. Many of these women—predominantly Latinas in the focus groups—actually work for temporary agencies and fear losing their regular warehouse assignment.

“When someone leaves early or takes off from work for an appointment or to take their kids to the doctor, you run the risk that you will not be sent again to the company,” one woman said. “You have to go back to the agency and wait from 5:00 a.m. to see what work is available for you.”

The Center for Women and Work outlines a series of recommendations to help working families, including:

  • Employers should ensure advance notice of schedules and reject the practice of “open availability.”
  • Scheduling software should be programmed to provide predictable staffing hours.
  • New Jersey should consider enacting legislation that advances fair work week schedules.
  • The state should raise more awareness of the New Jersey’s Earned Sick Days law.
  • Worker advocates should continue to document violations, including sexual harassment.

“Unstable scheduling is a serious obstacle to women’s economic stability and advancement,” said Debra Lancaster, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work and co-author of the report. “Our research shows that it complicates the lives of low-wage workers and keeps many women trapped in a cycle of dead-end work.”

This research was supported by a grant from the Fund for New Jersey.

Additional Resources
A new report by UC Berkeley’s Shift Project finds 59 percent of New Jersey women receive less than two weeks’ advance notice of their schedule; 49 percent work “clopening” shifts; and 29 percent work on-call. Click here to read the full report.

Press Contact
Steve Flamisch
Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations
848.252.9011 (cell)

About the School
The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. SMLR’s Center for Women and Work engages in research, education, and programming that promotes economic and social equity for women workers, their families and communities.