Part time staffing is suddenly a hot issue. Blame Obamacare and its mandate that businesses provide some modicum of care for their employees. Or blame the holiday season and the influx of gift-needing customers. Whatever the cause, there're large numbers of part time workers out there.

For businesses, part-timers don't qualify for benefits, work less hours, and tend to offer a little more flexibility with scheduling, which are all positives when it comes to bottom lines. An uncommon tactic -- albeit questionable in its new use -- may soon become as common as the still-questionable outsourcing practices that are now commonplace. That tactic? On-call employees.

Already common in certain professions (medicine) and service categories (food service and auto service come to mind), as well as temp work, certain retailers are experimenting with on-call employees, which are also known as just-in-time employees or on-demand employees. Similar to how the practice of just-in-time inventory streamlined processes and cut costs by eliminating the need for warehouses and the profit loss that comes from stale inventor, just-in-time employment eliminates paying workers for hours where there was no need for them in a store. The hallmarks of the new just-in-time retail employee?

- part-time status
- no guaranteed weekly hours
- no guaranteed daily hours
- day-of notice for work

In these early goings of this new use of on-call employees, employees can be told as late as the morning of that they'll be expected for work that day but that there's no guarantee as to the number of hours they'll get that day.The employees are working on-demand, as the need for them dictates. If the store slows, they can be sent home.

The ethical questions this raises are numerous -- it is a severe break with the traditional expectation of "if you're called in to work, you'll work an expected shift for a guaranteed amount of money" and employees may balk. Case in point: an early implementer of the practice - H&M - is already receiving flack for it in an article centered around an angry employee, so implementation of the practice could cause a public backlash with employees and consumers both.

Still, if the public comes to accept it, and the job market stays down long enough that potential employees accept it, it may become a viable path to savings in the future. Stay tuned.
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Nicholas Hamner

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