Compensability Of “On-Call Time” Under Federal Overtime Law

Some types of employment requires you to to be always ready to go, or “on call,” sometimes outside of your normal working hours.  There’s nothing illegal about that, but issues can arise over whether the employee should be compensated for the on-call/waiting time.  There’s no set answer to that question — The compensability of on-call time depends on the facts and circumstances of each employee’s situation.

In general, courts balance the facts of each case to determine whether the limitations on an employee’s freedoms prohibit the employee from using on-call time effectively for the employee’s own private pursuits.  Employers may impose some restrictions on on-call employees without having to pay for the on-call time.  Several factors are usually considered in determining whether on-call time is compensable, such as:

Did you have to stay on your employer’s premises?

What, if any, geographical restrictions did the employer place on your movement during your on-call time?

How often did you receive calls while on-call?

Was there a fixed time limit for your response to a call and, if so, what was the time limit?

Could your on-call responsibilities be easily traded with another employee if you were unable to or did not want to respond to a call?

Were you able, or did you actually, engage in personal activities during on-call time?

On-call time, particularly in the cell-phone era, is infrequently counted as working time.  Cell-phones allow for so much freedom of movement by employees, as opposed to the days when they were tethered to a landline or had to be close enough to a phone to respond to a pager contact, that the “personal freedom” analysis generally tips in the employer’s favor.

Of course, the time you actually spend working after being called is certainly compensable.  The issue with “on-call time” is whether you should be compensated for the time you spend waiting for that call to action.  The modern trend appear to be away from requiring employers to pay for on-call except in extreme situations.  Otherwise, most employees have too much freedom while on-call and can only claim as working time their efforts after the call comes in and the work begins.

Overtime cases require legal analysis of federal statutes, U.S. Department of Labor regulations, and court decisions.  I can help you with any employment law or labor law questions that you might have.  Please feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation about employment law or labor law.

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