Human Resources News & Insights

When ‘on call’ crosses the line to overtime

Pop quiz: Were these workers entitled to overtime pay?

Emergency medical technicians claimed they should’ve been paid overtime for the hours their employer — Sanford Regional Hospital in Worthington, MN — required them to be “on call.”

While on call, they had to report to their ambulances within six minutes of being called.

Their employer did not think they should’ve been compensated for on-call time.

What the law says

The Department of Labor (DOL) says that generally an employee doesn’t need to be paid for on-call time if the person:

  • isn’t required to remain on the employers’ premises, and
  • is free to enjoy uninterrupted leisure time.

Using those criteria, do you think the technicians should’ve been compensated for the time they spent on call?

Who was right?

If you answered “yes,” you’re correct. The DOL ruled the technicians should’ve been compensated for the overtime hours they spent on call.

As a result, the hospital had to pay $77,515 in back wages to 21 technicians.

According to the DOL, on-call time becomes compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act when the person can’t use the time effectively for personal reasons because:

  • the conditions are too restrictive, or
  • the calls to duty are frequent.

The DOL ruled the hospital’s on-call policy was too restrictive, because the technicians had to remain in a constant state of readiness so they could report to their ambulances within six minutes. That, according to the DOL, prevented the technicians from effectively using on-call time for personal purposes.

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