Technology’s made it easier for employees to be on call while still going about their personal lives. But companies should review their on-call policies to make sure they aren’t in danger of a hefty wage-and-hour suit.
Wage disputes are more common in this economy, and complaints regarding on-call time are no different. Companies have been hit hard for on-call time that should have been paid.
The general question when deciding if the time needs to be paid: If they aren’t called to work, can employees use the time as they wish?
If the answer’s yes, they aren’t considered “on duty” and only need to be paid for time spent working.
Here are some things the courts look at when deciding if employees on-call need to be paid:
- Strict geographic limitations — There’s no one answer regarding how close you can ask employees to stay to the worksite while on call, but requiring them to be within, say, a five-minute drive could probably get the company in trouble.
- Restrictions on movement — When employees are required to stay in the same place — whether it’s a work site or their homes — a court may agree their time needs to be paid.
- Quick-response requirements — Judges also consider the time a company asks its employees to respond to a call. Again, there’s no one rule, but courts have ruled that requiring employees to call back within 30 minutes is not overly restrictive. Anything much less than that probably would be.
- Uniform requirements — If employees have to wear a uniform, that’s a sign that personal use of their on-call time is restricted.
- Frequency of calls — The more calls employees get, the more likely it is that they’re considered “on duty” and need to be paid. For example, the Department of Labor has stated that EMTs who get more calls in the winter may be owed wages for their on-call time during those months, but not the rest of the year.
- Prohibiting employees from switching shifts — The more freedom employees have, the better the chance a court will side with the company.