This article examines the practice of on-call or in-demand scheduling and its implications for those who are subjected to it.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Careers, business studies

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What is on-call scheduling?
  • Is it fair?
  • Should it be allowed?

New Terminology:

On-call scheduling

Canadian Labour Congress

Materials Needed:

No special requirements; two class periods will be needed to complete the lesson

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Most people clearly recognize that with increasing competition stemming from growing globalization our workplace conditions are changing. The era of the eight-hour day, with everyone home for dinner, is rapidly disappearing. Advancing technology has allowed the blurring of work-life balance and, indeed, reduced the need for on-site presence in many situations. In addition, terms of employment have changed drastically, with many jobs now being on a contract basis with little likelihood of seniority or security entering into the picture. Those who do find permanent employment are finding that many positions offer pension plans based on defined contributions as opposed to defined benefits. Entering into this picture is the developing practice of on-call scheduling.  The use of on-call scheduling creates a situation in which management uses technology that tracks real-time sales and customer traffic and adjusts staffing needs accordingly, either sending employees home or calling them in on an immediate basis. There is apparently little regard for the impact this has on the people affected and the employees involved are usually in such a precarious position that they do not protest for fear of losing their jobs.

This practice is starting to draw the attention of various legislators who are beginning to examine ways to bring it in line with employment standards. This lesson will expose the students to this practice, discuss the reasons for it, and consider whether they believe it to be fair. It will also require them to consider what this suggests about the direction in which employment is headed and what the future may hold in terms of employment standards.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking how many of the students have part-time jobs.
  • Ask those who do have these jobs how far in advance they are given their work schedule.
  • Ask if any of them have either experienced a situation in which they have been sent home early without being paid for a full shift because business has been slow or been called into work immediately because business is hectic.
  • Ask them if they would continue to work in a place where this practice was common.
  • Once you have received their responses and reasons, indicate to them that this is a growing practice that is beginning to draw the attention of legislators as unfair.
  • At this point give them a copy of the article and allow them time to read it.
  • Once this is done, put them in groups of five or six and assign them the following questions:
    1. What is on-call scheduling?
    2. Why, when it is apparently so unfair to employees, would employers want to use it?
    3. As an employer would you use it? Why or why not?
    4. How have general working conditions changed since the time when the adults in your home entered the work force? What are the big changes?
    5. Why do you think these changes have occurred?
    6. Do you think these changes are for the better?
    7. Given these changing working conditions, what do you think the future holds?
  • Give the groups the remainder of class time to complete the assignment and tell them that group reports are due the beginning of next class.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Begin the second period of the lesson by having the groups report their findings to the class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

The students will:

  • demonstrate an understanding of on-call scheduling.
  • explain the reasons for this practice.
  • offer an informed opinion as to the fairness of this practice.
  • express ideas about what future workplace conditions might entail.

Confirming Activity:

  • Once the groups have completed their reports, hold a plenary session during which the students can discuss the findings of the groups and offer any additional insights or comments that they may have.
  • Once this has been completed, ask them to complete a writing assignment in which they will explain whether or not they believe governments should get involved in regulating working conditions. Tell them to be certain to indicate the degree to which they believe there should be government involvement and the reasons for their position.