On-call time is time when an employee is not actually performing job duties, but must be available to work if called upon. For example, a trauma nurse who must carry a pager and return to the hospital immediately if paged is on call, as is a computer technician who must respond to help calls over the weekend.
Even if you're on call, you aren't necessarily entitled to be paid for your time. Your rights depend on where you have to be and the restrictions placed on you, among other things.
An employee who must stay at the workplace waiting for work is entitled to be paid for that time. For example, an employee who repairs appliances and waits in the office to be called out on a job is entitled to be paid for that time, as is a secretary who does a crossword in the office while waiting for an assignment.
Employees who don't have to stay at work are entitled to pay for hours over which the employees have little or no control and which they cannot spend as they wish. If an employee is actually called and has to work, the employee is always entitled to pay for that actual work time.
As for the hours that are spent on call and not actually working, the more restrictions an employer places on an employee who is on call, the more likely that employee is entitled to be paid. Here are some of the factors courts consider:
Learn more about Wages and Hours.
If you have an employment contract or you work under a collective bargaining agreement, the terms of your employment—including any on-call time—should be spelled out in writing.
Otherwise, your employer is generally free to require you to work on-call time as long as it pays you for any compensable time as described above. Of course, employers may not assign on-call time in a manner that discriminates against any protected class, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Nor can an employer require on-call time in retaliation against an employee who reported a safety concern, filed a harassment complaint, or exercised another legal right.
In addition, many states have their own rules on how on-call employees must be paid. In California, for example, employees on unrestricted on-call time who respond to a call to work must receive the greater of:
Below are some of the most common occupations that may require on-call time. These roles often require individuals to be available outside of regular working hours to handle urgent situations or provide essential services:
If you aren't being paid for your time on call, consider consulting with an employment lawyer. Depending on your circumstances and how courts in your state interpret these rules, it may be perfectly legal for your employer not to pay you.
On the other hand, your employer may be breaking the law by failing to pay you for every hour you work.
An experienced lawyer should be able to quickly assess the facts of your situation and let you know whether you have a strong case -- and if so, how best to protect your rights.