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(ALBANY, N.Y.)—New York's attorney general has launched an inquiry into 13 major retailers, questioning the practice of keeping workers on call for shifts on short notice and possible violations of the state requirement to pay hourly staff for at least four hours when they report for work.

Letters were sent to Gap Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew Group Inc., L. Brands, Burlington Coat Factory, TJX Companies, Urban Outfitters, Target Corp., Sears Holding Corp., Williams-Sonoma Inc., Crocs, Ann Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has targeted New York employers who cheat or underpay low-wage workers, getting more than $17 million in restitution for about 14,000 workers from fast food franchise owners, construction contractors and others. His office is now examining retailers and whether reporting in to an employer also triggers the pay requirement under New York law.

"We have been informed that a number of companies in New York State utilize on-call shifts and require employees to report in some manner, whether by phone, text message or email, before the designated shift in order to learn whether their services are ultimately needed on site that day," Labor Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein wrote to the retailers. "We are examining this practice."

The attorney general's office said it has received reports of more employers setting shifts the night before or even just a few hours in advance, including these 13.

"Workers who must be 'on call' have difficulty making reliable childcare and elder-care arrangements, encounter obstacles in pursuing their education and in general experience higher incidences of adverse health effects, overall stress and strain on family life than workers who enjoy the stability and certainty of knowing their schedules reasonable in advance of having to appear for work," Gerstein wrote.

In the letters, she requested by May 4 the companies' written policies requiring staff be available for work with no guaranteed hours and that they report in some manner before showing up. She asked for sample schedules from each calendar quarter in 2013-2014 with on-call shifts and any computerized reports tracking them.

She also requested all time and payroll records where any employee worked in New York and was paid for less than four hours.

Gap Inc., whose retail brands include Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy, said it is "committed to establishing sustainable scheduling practices that will improve stability for our employees, while helping to effectively manage our business."

The company last year began a pilot project examining workplace scheduling and productivity "to create solutions that will be sustainable and can be implemented across our company's entire footprint and fleet," spokeswoman Laura Wilkinson said. They expect data results this fall, she said.

TJX Companies, whose stores include T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, said it has always taken into consideration what's best for its staff and the company, and that managers work to develop schedules that serve the needs of both.

Sears Holdings said it doesn't do on-call scheduling for store associates and will cooperate with the information requests.

JCPenney has a policy against on-call scheduling and fully complies with New York law requiring compensation when an employee is not required to work a full shift, spokeswoman Daphne Avila said. It will comply with the information request, she said.

Ann Inc. said its staffing guidelines don't include the practice of on-call shifts.

The other companies did not immediately reply Monday to queries from The Associated Press.