Do You Get Paid for Being On Call?

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What does being "on call" mean, and what happens with your pay when your job requires you to be on call and ready to work if you're needed? 

When Employees Are Paid for Being On Call

In some professions, employers require a certain number of workers who are willing to be “on call” – that is, to be available to work with limited notice after their regular shift ends. Pay for on-call time is when an employee is paid for the time spent being available to work. However, just because you are “on call” does not mean that you will necessarily be paid.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), enacted in 1938, has defined the federal guidelines that govern whether or not you will be paid for on-call hours. The underlying question that determines if you will be compensated is, “Does the time you spend on call qualify as “hours worked” when calculating overtime and minimum wage?”

When employees make themselves available in their actual office or workplace for on-call assignments, employers must pay them for the time they spend there. Because these on-call hours are spent in restricted conditions where an employee cannot use his / her time for personal purposes, this time is considered to be payable “hours worked.” Examples of these types of employees are hospital staff who must stay at the hospital during their on-call hours, and maintenance workers who must remain within minutes or miles of their facility.

Employees who are covered by employment contracts or bargaining agreements which stipulate pay for being on call are also entitled to compensation for the hours they spend on call.

When Employers Don't Have to Pay Employees for Being On Call

The situation becomes more ambiguous, however, when an employee is on call at home. Employers will generally view this time as hours spent in “non-restricted conditions,” where the employee is free to use the time however he or she wishes. The employer can require certain things of the at-home on-call employee - that they are accessible by phone or pager, and that they refrain from drinking alcohol, for example. Nevertheless, this time does not qualify as “hours worked,” and will not be compensated.

If, however, the employee is prevented from using this time at home for their own purposes when they are on call, they would need to be compensated for it. For example, if the frequency of calls is such that the employee is unable to mow the lawn, or attend a child’s event, or read a newspaper, or attend a doctor’s appointment during the period they are on call, they are not able to effectively use the time for personal activities, and thus would have to be paid. Time spent responding to calls (traveling to and from the workplace) also counts as payable time worked.

In general, when an employee is an exempt employee paid on a salary basis, the employer would not be required to pay him or her for being available.

Company Policy

Some companies may provide for on-call pay beyond that required by law. Check your employee handbook, or with your supervisor or Human Resources department, if you are not clear about what you are eligible to be paid for.

If the company has a policy that pays for time spent being on call, the employer would be obligated to cover all employees who are covered by the policy.

You should also check to see if your state has its own standards for when employees must be paid for on-call time since many states have their own minimum wage and overtime laws separate from the federal government’s. Employers must follow whichever minimum wage/overtime law – either state or federal – which provides the greatest benefits to their personnel.

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