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The Almighty Buck IT

Should You Be Paid For Being On Call? 735

theodp writes "Fortune's Dear Annie takes on the case of poor Dazed and Confused, an independent webmaster who's expected to be on call for his client at all hours of the day and night, but doesn't get paid for being on call, only for the 40 hours a week that he's in the office. Surprisingly, Annie throws cold water on the contractor's dreams of paid OT, citing these pearls of wisdom from an attorney who's apparently never had the 'privilege' of being a techie on call: 'Many companies see the on-call issue as analogous to a fire fighter's job. Most of the time, a fire fighter is off-duty but on call, hanging around the firehouse, cooking, sleeping, or whatever. What that person really gets paid for is the relatively small, but crucial, amount of time he spends walking into a burning building with an ax. A webmaster, likewise, has slow times and busy times.'" What on call policies are you used to working with and how should it work in an ideal world?
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Should You Be Paid For Being On Call?

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  • Well, then... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:37PM (#30273182) Homepage Journal

    Here's the way I see it. Mr. Lawyer, you want to pay for support 40 hours a week? I'll give you a cellphone number I'll answer 40 hours a week.

    It is ridiculous to presume that offering the opportunity to interrupt one's life at any time, any place, with an overriding obligation to deal with your problems, has no value.

    Oh, you want the 168 hour phone number? Well, that's gonna cost ya...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shikaku ( 1129753 )

      Oh, you want the 168 hour phone number? Well, that's gonna cost ya...

      ... Your job.

      • Re:Well, then... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MrMr ( 219533 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:44PM (#30273292)
        I don't understand that. If he's an independent webmaster it will cost him a non-paying customer, the kind you really can do without.
        If he is on the pay-roll he should probably join a union.
        • Re:Well, then... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Delwin ( 599872 ) * on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:46PM (#30273324)
          Have you ever heard of a webmaster union, or for that matter any IT/programming union?

          I haven't.
          • Re:Well, then... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by amorsen ( 7485 ) <> on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:50PM (#30273398)

            In Denmark, the IT union is one of the stronger ones.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            I'm having trouble reconciling union with what i assume is an independent contractor.
            • Re:Well, then... (Score:4, Informative)

              by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @04:34PM (#30274192)

              For independent contractors or freelancers, a more comparable model might be the Freelancer's Union [] or an entertainment guild/mutual aid association like yours truly's union [].

              Both use collective bargaining to obtain health benefits and provide common resume writing/promotion/education/development services; the latter is a proper union has wage/working condition bargaining power by having a master agreement with all employers in a jurisdiction.

              A union of freelancers is workable, and is the SOP in the film/television industry, when union benefits are made "portable" from job to job. In this case then the union's main job is to provide continuity of benefits, so I don't end up having six 401k's all over Los Angeles and paying COBRA one month out of every five.

        • Re:Well, then... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @04:48PM (#30274418)

          If he's an independent webmaster it will cost him a non-paying customer, the kind you really can do without.


          Having played both sides of this issue, let me throw some thoughts out to the wolves (so to speak):

          1. If he is asking slashdot on how to handle this, I doubt he is in a position to lose any customers.

          2. If the website is so problematic that he needs to be on call, then maybe he should make an effort to improve the reliability.

          3. I've had a few customers who used to call after hours for issues not related to the work I was doing. If the problem was small and can be done over the phone (or remotely) I usually helped them out for free. If the problem looked like it was going to take some time to fix or required me to drive to their location, I charged. If the problem could not wait until regular business hours, I charged accordingly. The trick was that I did enough gratis work for them, that they didn't flinch when I required payment for the particularly difficult problems...

          4. As the economy worsens, the number of competitors for your clients will increase. It's easier to work a little harder to keep a client, then it is to replace one.

          5. Keep in mind, that some advice given here on Slashdot are from those who wouldn't mind taking your client.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mea37 ( 1201159 )

          I'm guessing you didn't RTFA.

          He's classified as a contractor, but the odds are he'd legally be considered an employee were the company audited for payroll taxes. Could even run into labor law co-employment issues. Basically the company is doing exactly what those laws aim to prevent - getting full-time services from an employee without paying for that employee's benefits.

          More to the point, this company is his only customer; he reports in the office 40 hours a week, just like an employee, and he gets paid

        • Re:Well, then... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:38PM (#30275128) Journal

          No need for a union. Simply:

          1) get written confirmation from your boss you are not elligible for overtime and on-call pay. Show him a copy of the FLSA related to on-call work and have them explain why they fee it does not apply to your position.
          2) work as long as you feel you'de like to for that firm.
          3) at some point later, present a copy of the FLSA 29 CFR 17 defining on-call pay requirements, having this notorized by a lawyer is nice too. Even an anonymous call to the labor board in your state may also work so you can remain anonymous and reap the benefits without job loss.
          4) take large settlement check for all logged time (at time and a half at least, plus additional compensation as best as you can negotiate).
          4a) if company offers your continued employment, great, if not, you have a real nice paycheck, plus back pay
          4b) if check not offered, sue, you'll be due at least 3 times the back pay at time and a half, plus all your legal fees. It's a cut and dry case, you'll be compensated additionally for time lost, and likely will never appear in court.

          Here's the conditions outlined in the FLSA regarding who should be paid for on-call waiting time (on call actual time on a call helping someone is assumed you'll be paid for, this is the "sitting around" time you should also be paid for...):

          --Geography. How far can an on-call worker stray from the jobsite? The more restricted he or she is, the more likely it is that on-call time is compensable. Before cell phones and pagers, on-call people often had to be at home, by the phone. Now they can be anywhere, so the issue is less clear. That often brings it down to a matter of

          --Response Time. How long a time do you allow for on-call people to respond? That frequently spells how far away they can be. If you demand the person be on-site in 10 minutes, says Jorgensen, the time is likely to be compensable. If it’s 60 minutes, he believes the opposite is true.

          --Call Frequency. How often is the person actually called? In one court case, Jorgensen reports, an employee called three to five times a day was ruled to be working and had to be paid. In another case, one called six times in a year was not deemed so.

          --Uniqueness. A fourth factor relates to how many of your workers can do the needed work. If there’s a pool of employees available, and employees can trade off the on-call responsibility, there’s less evidence that any one of them is restricted personally.

          --Alcohol restrictions. If the company requires you to remain sober during on-call time, likely you qualify for pay during the entire time.

          Other things that may factor in regionally or at the state level:
          - additional compensation for interrupted meals, including at the least pay for the intire time of the meal plus the interruption, and potentially fair compensation for the cost of the meal.
          - minimum 5 hours uninterupted rest clause. Get woken up at 3AM after going to sleep at 11PM. Have to be at work at 8AM next day, so you get up at 5:30. You did not get 5 hours uninterupted, so you must be paid the ENTIRE 8 HOURS OF SLEEP as if you were awake/
          - no alternate compensation: can't be compensated with comp time, only payroll. In states where comp-time is approved comensation for on-call work, that must be at 150% the comp rate (equiv of overtime compensation pay). Further, an employer in most states can not make you leave early because you worked late the night before, nor cut your hours to below your average work week in order to avoid overtime.
          - OSHA and other FLSA regulations on max time allowable at work in a 24 hour period (varies by job title as well, for instance emergency worker, driver, etc).

    • Re:Well, then... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Deflagro ( 187160 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:42PM (#30273256)

      Right, I'm sure Mr Lawyer wouldn't mind being on retainer for free either. We'll call you when we need you and pay you on the go.

      Firefighters get benefits though in that they are provided food and shelter at no cost and can practically live at the firehouse, albeit not something everyone would love to do :P

      I think if you expect someone to be at your every beck-and-call, then you need to pay them. At least give them some reason to care.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        Unless you guys run your fire houses a LOT differently than ours, firefighters get paid while their on duty (including lounging around the fire house). Nobody starts a stop watch when they hit the threshold of the burning house and then stops it when they exit.

    • You insensitive clod!
    • You give them your cell number? Work can have my cell number when they start paying the bill.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by farrellj ( 563 ) *

      The last time I worked on call, I got an hour of overtime per weekday, and two hours on the weekend just for being on-call....and I was paid over time if I got paged and had to go in and do some work...but that is working in a Country that has real labour laws, Canada. Before that, I worked in Charlotte, NC, and if I didn't do on-call for free, I would have been let go from my job. A friend of mine working for another company there sometimes put in as much as 60 hours of over time, answering on-call problem

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lots of companies used to give pay or comp time in exchange for on call duty, back in the days when the It staff was considered an asset rather than an expense. Those days are over.

  • salary sucks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BosHaus ( 629060 )
    Back when I was hourly, I got paid 2hrs for being on call for the weekend, plus any time spent working. Now that I'm salary, they can abuse me all weekend for free.
  • by Aliencow ( 653119 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:41PM (#30273244) Homepage Journal

    You're basically hooked to a pager, which means you need to be near a phone, and usually near a computer with internet connectivity.

    I don't work in operations, but everyone in decent places I've worked at did get paid around 3hours of salary per 24hours of wearing the pager. Then it was a minimum of 1 hour per "call" (more like issue, as it could involve multiple calls) except for the first one of the day which was included in the 3hours.

    That meant that in a typical week you'd get paid for (24*7)-40 hours of "pager duty", which amounted to 16 hours of salary, so 2 days extra. That's pretty good, assuming you're on a decent rotation and don't have to be THE guy doing it every single week.

    • by ryanov ( 193048 )
      Thanks for the information. I didn't ask the original question, but I am currently on call for free and am on the board of the union that is attempting to change that. We've been having a rough time with proposals considering most of us are salaried. Any sort of creative ideas that don't involve getting officially paid for the hours are interesting to read.
      • by BarryJacobsen ( 526926 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @04:08PM (#30273768) Homepage
        I'm the only IT person here, and basically how it works for me (I designed the system as I was essentially creating the department) is that I work 40 hours per week, with the expectation that most of the time it will be the standard 9 - 5. If I get called during the night and I'm just on the phone and/or remoting in, that time counts towards the 40 with the time counted in 30 minute chunks (i.e. a 5 minute phone call counts as 30 minutes worked). If I actually have to come in, the time it takes for me to drive there + back to where I was is included in the worked time and (again) time is counted in 30 minute chunks. It works out pretty well for me.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Aliencow ( 653119 )
          Maybe for now it works well, but over time it can be a pain. I consider my time at 3am on a sunday morning to be worth WAY more than time at 10am on a monday morning.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 )

      You're basically hooked to a pager, which means you need to be near a phone, and usually near a computer with internet connectivity.

      And you need to be sober. Depending on what it is you like to do with your free time, the possibility of having to work at any moment might severely impair your ability to properly enjoy your free time. That has value.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by N1ck0 ( 803359 )

      My company has a pretty simple setup. On Call Primary - $300/wk, On Call Secondary - $150/wk. Flat fee.
      1. If you are forced to work more then 24 hours straight the secondary takes over for 12 hours.
      2. If you have work more then an additional 40 hours per week, you get equal 'comp. time' (Ext Paid Vacation time)
      3. If you were not on call and have to fill in for a last min change/emergency you get whatever time in 'comp. time'
      4. During Scheduled Maintenance (min 1 week advanced warning) the primary and seco

  • I get paid for the time I work, on an hourly basis. 5 minutes over the hour? Well that's one hour I bill for, just like you mr lawyer.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:42PM (#30273262) Journal
    Obviously, with all else equal, the guy who is 40 hours + on call needs to be paid more than the guy who is 40 hours only, unless we want to go back to the good old days of indentured servitude or something.

    However, it doesn't really much matter exactly how that extra money is delivered. It could be that "The job description of 'Job A' includes being on call, which is why people who do it earn a hefty salary" or it could be "'Job B' is 9 to 5; and time on call is X dollars/hour outside of that". That seems to be the point of confusion.
    • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Monday November 30, 2009 @04:07PM (#30273750) Homepage

      However, it doesn't really much matter exactly how that extra money is delivered. It could be that "The job description of 'Job A' includes being on call, which is why people who do it earn a hefty salary" or it could be "'Job B' is 9 to 5; and time on call is X dollars/hour outside of that". That seems to be the point of confusion.

      Exactly. The first question here should be, are we talking about a salaried position or an hourly wage? If it's a salaried position, then the salary should just be higher for taking on a job with the increased responsibility of being on call. "Being on call" should be part of the job description, and part of the negotiation for salary at hiring. If it wasn't and they ask you to be on call, then I think it's generally reasonable to say, "That wasn't part of my job description. If you want me to be on call, then I want a pay bump to go along with it."

      If it's an hourly wage, then again it needs to be negotiated. If it were me, I'd probably want a certain rate for working the normal 40 hour week, a different rate for being on call, and a third (relatively high) rate for work done outside of normal hours, while on call. If you want me to make an effort to ensure that I can be reached 24/7, I expect some kind of compensation. If you expect me to actually come in at 2am and work, then I expect to get paid more for that time than I get paid during the normal weekday.

      Of course, negotiating terms of employment can always be tricky. If you really like your job and don't mind being on call for the amount you're paid, then you might not want to push it. If you play hardball, it's possible they'll just let you go.

  • As someone who is a web developer/webmaster web-whatever-you-want-to-call-it. At most of my jobs I spend most of my 40 hours a week busy. Doing work. When I have done systems administration, it's been the same thing. I am 90% busy those 40 hours per week. There are VERY little slow periods, unlike a Fire fighter (not to dis fire fighters) who spend most of their day waiting to be called to work. If I work 40hrs during the week, and then get called in 3-4 nights because something is acting up, in a wa

  • ...salaried or not.

    If you are salaried, you accepted a position for fixed pay, fixed pay for all the responsibilities of that position (usually.) If you're hourly, you should be paid for the time you're in action during your on call period. If being 'on call' is seriously intrusive to your everyday life then you should discuss, before accepting the position, whether or not that results in some form of recompense (monetary or otherwise.)

    Presuming he/she is salaried, you can't complain about it after accept

  • On call is done in week long shifts. Basically from monday at 8:30am until the next monday at 8:30am, you are on call. After that, it switches to the next technician in the rotation, and so on. During that week you put in your regular hours (8:30-5:30) but you're also expected to handle customer calls that may come in in the evening/early morning. Afterwards, you are compensated either $150, or a day of comp time that can be used like a personal day whenever you choose (some blackouts). Its not bad, its not
  • NOT GONNA DO IT! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iplayfast ( 166447 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:43PM (#30273284)

    I tried this once, but I hated being on a leash so much that I quickly found another job. It just wasn't worth my sanity.

    • by scamper_22 ( 1073470 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:33PM (#30275062)

      One the items often missed here is the exempt employees are supposed to be able to exercise judgment. It's a vague concept in many circumstances. However, if you are able to exercise judgment, you MUST be able to use the following word:


      Do some companies make it hard to say no? Absolutely. Been there done that. But that is what you must do. If you are a worker bee that just takes instructions from management... you are not a professional and you should be paid overtimes.

      It's amazing to me the number of people who never even TRY to say no. I don't know how I'd act if my manager actually threatened to fire me for saying no. It's never happened. Granted, I am sure it has cost me in terms of promotions, bonuses... Perfectly fair if you ask me. Someone else is willing to work harder than me... they deserve it.

      I'm a pretty reasonable person. I'll put in some extra hours if a deadline is coming up. I'll do a late night call once in a while if there's an emergency. If I start to see a pattern... emergencies happening weekly... then it ain't an emergency and management had better start budgeting for that.

      And yes, we should all be grateful to have a job in this time. But never forget this is not a one way street. No employer is going to value you unless you value yourself.

      You know the code/equipment; you know the domain; you know the processes; you are known to do good work. You're worth something. If you leave, the company has to go find a replacement, train them, deadlines pushed back because a new person is coming in... and there's uncertainty if it works out... Chances are the company is understaffed as is... and losing you would just make things even more unmanageable. In short, value yourself. Don't overvalue yourself... anyone can be replaced :P

  • A contractor? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Greg_D ( 138979 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:44PM (#30273298)

    You want the opportunity to use my services at your convenience? Pay me a retainer equal to X hours a month. I work any more than X, you pay me an hourly rate. I work less than X, you still owe me for those hours.

  • hospital model... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:44PM (#30273304)

    Well, the firefighter mentioned is flawed - he is *at work* waiting for a call to come in. On call is not at work, but available should the shit hit the fan.

    The hospitals I worked in, the staff that were on call (CAT scan techs, nuke med techs, OR nurses, recovery room nurses, dialysis folks) were paid $1 or $2 per hour just for carrying the beeper. Should they get called in, they were guaranteed 2 hours of pay, but they had to stay waiting for something to do for that whole time (a CT tech could come in and scan someone in 10 min - but they then had to hang out and wait for the extra hour and 50 minutes). This pay was at regular pay rates/levels, so night shift differential or holiday differential kicked in, as would over time if their total for the pay week was over 40 hours.

    So... followign this, our poor over worked web master would be paid say $1/hr for totin his beeper or whatever. If he gets called, he comes in and fixes the issue, gets a minimum of 2 hours of work at his hourly rate, and probably gets over time. Sounds good. In reality, he's probably a salaried employee, so over time is out the window, and if he's lucky he may be allowed to leave 15 minutes early on Friday to make up for it.

  • Firefighting (Score:5, Informative)

    by tumnasgt ( 1350615 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:46PM (#30273322)
    Firefighters) run shifts, they are only ever on call when they are at the station, which they have two 12 hour day shifts, two 12 hour night shifts, and then 4 days off. Pretty fair working conditions if you ask me. No 40 hours in at the station, and then an expectation that they will get up at 3 o'clock in the morning cos Mrs Jones' left a candle burning and the cat knocked it over. Maybe Mr Lawyer need's to check who he is comparing with before he accidentally agrees that 24/7 is unfair.
    • Re:Firefighting (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @04:42PM (#30274346)

      My brother is a firefighter, works 24 on, 72 off. He is at the station the entire time he is "on call", and never, ever gets called when off duty, unless someone needs to trade shifts. If he has training to do, it is either done during his shift (with obvious breaks for fires) or he gets paid additional to come in during his off time (or gets a 24 hour shift waived as payment, basically trading time)

      Is the lawyer thinking of Volunteer firefighters? they usually work their real jobs during the day, and when the call comes, go to work as a firefighter. Many Volunteer departments in rural areas don't pay the firefighters, but do re-imburse them a token amount for mileage when they drive to the scene.

  • My company has a great on-call system. You're on call 1 out of 8 weeks, and get paid $50 a day to carry the pager, which really means "forward SMS monitoring messages to your cellphone." It's also nice because we run Linux so our systems rarely have issues. It's basically like getting an extra $350 every other month for nothing.

  • Paid call (Score:3, Informative)

    by dr_strang ( 32799 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:46PM (#30273332)

    My wife is an OR (operating room) nurse who is paid to be on call, which I would consider to be roughly analogous to this topic. However, there are a couple of major differences:

    1. She has to go to a specific location (the hospital) when called in. It's not like she can do her job from home.
    2. She's paid hourly.
    3. Usually if she gets called in, someone is dying. I would rarely, if ever, classify an IT emergency anywhere near as important as that.

  • As a person who works closely with on call groups but not on call himself, I can say that were I tasked to now be on call, I would expect compensation as such. We pay our employees a normal wage but if they work a later shift, they get a "travel allowance" that most just use as additional income. The federal government also gives a bump in pay adjustment to jobs who work to the tune of 50hrs instead of 40hrs.

    Meaning if you go from 40hrs to 40hrs + "We can call if we need you" you should then therefore
  • Expected on call 24 x 7 without being paid for it? I don't think so. I value my free time too much for that. How can you ever go fishing, hunting, camping, or be at a movie if you're expected to answer the phone?

    The firefighter is not really paid for that small but crucial amount of time that they are in action. They are paid for the time that they're hanging around the station house unable to do anything BUT respond to fires.

    Annie has this one wrong, very wrong

  • by Fished ( 574624 ) <> on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:50PM (#30273402)
    The problem is that, when you're "on call", your time is not your own. You're expected to be ready and able to drop everything at a moments notice and go to work, immediately. Furthermore, you can be limited as to where you can go, particularly in areas with poor cell phone coverage. Most employers I've worked with have given a day of "comp" time in exchange for a week on-call, although they've sometimes been a bit sketchy on actually doing this and on how you should report it. To me, it should be official, recognized, and fully compensated--but often it just happens at manager's discretion.
  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:51PM (#30273426)

    'Many companies see the on-call issue as analogous to a fire fighter's job. Most of the time, a fire fighter is off-duty but on call, hanging around the firehouse, cooking, sleeping, or whatever. What that person really gets paid for is the relatively small, but crucial, amount of time he spends walking into a burning building with an ax.

    This is flawed, as in many fire departments or houses there are multiple crews. You've got 3 days 'in the house' then 3 days 'at home' followed by '4 days in the house' then 4 days 'at home.' When you're in the house, you're responsible for any and all calls that come in. So firefighters get paid for the time they are in the house. Just like most people are paid for the time they are in the office, but aren't paid for Saturdays and Sundays.

    If he wants to correct the analogy, he should say that firefighters who are in the 'at home' phase, get called in, but don't get paid for it. They do get paid for it, just like Police Officers that work overtime or off-shift.

  • by iamhassi ( 659463 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:51PM (#30273436) Journal
    I've done a lot of independant contractor work and I've hired dozens of contractors, so I'll put my two cents in.

    As a independent contractor he gets to choose if he wants to work or not. If he wants to go out of town then go for it, but if they call and you're not available they're going to get someone else. You're not "on call", they just let you know "hey we have some work here if you want it, if not no problem".

    Being an independant contracotr for a business just means you are someone they know with a particular skill and they will let you know when they need your expertise in the future. It's the job equivalent of "fuck buddy".

    If he got paid for being "on call" as a independent contractor then we'd all have to pay plumbers, lawn mowing guy, electrician, mechanics, and all the other "use you when I need you" people in our lives for being "on call".
  • by rotide ( 1015173 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:51PM (#30273444)

    If I'm at work I can't drink, can't go out of state, can't do anything outside of what my boss tells me I can do (basically).

    If I'm no longer on the clock, I can do whatever I want (basically).

    If I'm asked to be on call, I have to mold my "not on the clock" time to whatever my boss requires. I can't go out of state. I can't go to an amusement park with my kids. I can't go to a movie. Well, not unless I don't mind up and leaving to go home and sign on the laptop.

    If your boss expects you to do x or y while you're not on the clock, you _are_ on the clock and deserve pay for it. The only time I allow my boss to dictate what I can and can't do is when he's paying me to allow him to boss me around.

  • by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:52PM (#30273446)

    Firefighters aren't just "hanging around the firehouse" when they're not putting out fires. They spend that time maintaining equipment, training, performing building inspections, and a lot of other duties. I'm sure municipal policies vary, but I'm certain that many firefighters work regular shifts, and when an emergency call extends beyond their regular shift they are paid overtime.

  • Wrong! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:54PM (#30273490)

    Most of the time, a fire fighter is off-duty but on call,

    100 percent of wrong. Firefighters are not off-duty when they are on-call. They are on-duty. When they go off-duty, they are no longer on call. Firefighters are typically on-duty for a 24-hour shift for two or three days a week. On their off days, they are not on call. Thus, most of the time, a firefighter is NOT on call.

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:55PM (#30273498) Homepage Journal

    On-call duty is to be paid, end of story. Anyone trying to sell you otherwise is trying to save money at your expense.

    That said, of course it isn't paid at the same rate as a regular work hour. After all, you can spend it dozing, surfing the web for porn, fighting with your loved one or going shopping.

    The alternative for the company to having someone on call is to have someone there, on the clock. Obviously, that's a lot more expensive. Since they're a company and trying to make a profit, they'll try to get things as cheaply as possible, and free if at all possible. That doesn't mean you have to give it to them for free. Next they'll be asking for free overtime, and then if you'd mind not being paid at all.

    Really, I'm not being sarcastic. They are essentially asking you to work for nothing. It's not much work (carrying a cell phone and picking it up if it rings), but it's work.

    And don't let them fool you with examples of other jobs. There are some jobs where being on call is so standard that it's figured into the regular salary. That doesn't mean it's free, it's just not explicitly listed on the paycheck. And of course firemen get paid for the time they're waiting for an emergency. After all, that's why we have professional firefighters - to have someone ready to come at a moments notice. And if you check their contracts, they certainly don't say "a work week consists of 3,5 hours inside burning buildings and 1,5 hours rescuing lost cats", but much more likely something like "a work week consists of 40 hours".

  • by Archfeld ( 6757 ) * <> on Monday November 30, 2009 @03:55PM (#30273516) Journal
    But in California I was always payed 2 hours for responding to a page, just carrying the pager was considered a 'better' alternative to requiring after-hours onsite staff. This was a large financial institution, and I was a Unix Systems Engineer, one among 8 or 10. Once I moved to a smaller venue, ie development lab and system support, the pager time dramatically decreased and was swapped with comp time as it arose. I don't think you are going to get payed up front for carrying the pager but you DO have a right to get payed if a response is required, and if you are required to remain within a certain distance from home or work you might have a valid issue as well. []
  • I got paid (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xerfas ( 1625945 ) * on Monday November 30, 2009 @04:10PM (#30273800) Journal
    When I was on call for fixing nortel meridian and ericsson md110 phone switches remotely I got paid for having a cell phone on when I had it. So a customer could call at any hour and I would have 30 mins to get to work no matter where I was located so I could login to their systems and do what was needed. I was paid special overtime for this, which didn't pay as well as the normal 100% extra hour salary. I think it was 20-30% extra if nothing happened and 70ish% extra if something happened. Phones has to work so I guess people tend to pay a bit more then for a website person on call, which is wrong considering some companies live off of their website.

    A friend of mine had 100% extra on his boss webservers, but that was because he had built it from scratch and was probably the only one who could fix any problems in the time his boss wanted it to be fixed.

    In my opinion, this Annie should be paid atleast 50% her normal salary when she is on call. This is something which should be in the contract with her employer. If the website is so important so she can't fix it in the morning, then it means it's also important enough to pay for on call service.
  • by Anonymous Psychopath ( 18031 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @04:13PM (#30273846) Homepage

    At my last job we didn't have an on call schedule but we were generally expected to be accessible to our customers if Something Bad happened. One Friday night, around 7pm, my colleague got one of those calls. He listened to the customer explain the problem, and then proceeded to tell him that he would be best served by calling the manufacturer's support line as he had been drinking for several hours and would probably just make things worse in his current condition. No one could really fault him; he did the right thing by the customer.

  • Absolutely (Score:4, Interesting)

    by loafula ( 1080631 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @04:50PM (#30274466)
    Being forced to remain in contact, remain sober and live your life with the lingering wonder of being called or inturrepted at any moment is a job in itself. If you are on-call, you should be getting paid for it. I work in tech support for a healthcare system. I am paid hourly, and in a rotation where I am on-call for one week every five weeks. During this time, I am guaranteed $2.50 per hour I am off duty and carrying a pager. If I come in, I get three hours of overtime whether I am here for three hours or five minutes.
  • by xdroop ( 4039 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @04:52PM (#30274484) Homepage Journal

    My policy always was, my pager compensation was proportional to the potential impairment of my own agenda.

    What I mean is, if you expect me to reply to you within a certain time frame, then I have to be near a phone or within cell coverage. This restricts where I can go. If you expect me to connect in remotely, I have to be near internet connectivity, and most of the time be carrying my laptop with me. This further restricts where I can go, and what I can do when I go there. If you want me to be on site within a certain time frame, that even further restricts where I can go.

    If I can watch TV, go to the movies, or out for dinner and still be on call, that's not going to cost you as much as if I have to be within 30 minutes of being on-site from the moment you call me.

    Historically, I have been lucky. One employer paid us $500/week to carry the pager with a 90-minute call-back SLA (and then hilariously lost the pager number and refused to admit it, so was unable to call us for 8 months). One customer was quoted something stupid like $5K/week for 7x24, 60-minute on-site (plus hourly when we got there). Any call time was billed back to the client, and we (theoretically) got time-for-time in exchange for that. My current employer has a pager our customers to call, but since it is 7x24 it is optional to be in the rotation and for various reasons I've opted out. In addition to receiving money for your week on the pager here, time is tracked very strictly and we get time-for-time for any pager-call time served.

  • Lawyer's retainer? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bokmann ( 323771 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:00PM (#30274614) Homepage

    And does the lawyer offering this advice accept a retainer fee from his clients so that he can be on call for them?

    24x7 support is costly in any business. The firefighter is not an apt analogy... Is he expected to work an 8 hour day and THEN be on call for fires?

    And is he serious when he thinks a firefighter is paid for only the small amount of time he is out firefighting? If that were the case, I expect we would see a lot of financially insolvent firefighters-turned-pyromaniac in order to put their kids through college.

  • Cut and Dry here (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:21PM (#30274900) Journal

    I've worked On-Call shifts with a number of companies before.

    Here's the deal:
    The FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] regulations provide that "[a]n employee who is required to remain on call on the employer's premises or so close thereto that he cannot use the time effectively for his own purposes" is considered to be "working." 29 C.F.R. [section] 785.17

    It is against the law for a on-call person to be paid salary. They are non-exempt employees by definition. Any time spent fulfilling required job duties outside of the office must be compensated. Overtime pay scales may or may not apply by job description.

    Since a home system, paid for at least in part by an employer, including compensated phone/internet bills and job requirements to maintain a home computer for work purposes (or a provided corporate computer for use at home, including rotated on-call hardware shared by several people) is an extension of the office and the duties of the job, that home system is essentially ruled by the courts to BE the office when on-call. Anytime an employer requires an on-call person to remain in their home, or in proximity to a computer system and to carry and answer a phone routed by the company at specific hours, then that person, under the FLSA, is in fact WORKING. The rate they're paid for that time spent "waiting" for a call may be billed at varying rates, but generally not less than 50% of regular pay, and any time actually on a call would be bileld at the standard rate for that employee (or overtime rate if it applies). Many companies pay a base "convenience" wage to people who are on call but take no calls during that time.

    The Supreme Court, in previous rulings, has also concurred. If you are bound to a location, unable to leave and persue personal activities (say, go to a movie, go out to dinner across town, play video games online, go shopping at something other than a local grocery store, etc), or are mandated to be at a computer to handle calls within X minutes of a notice of an alert (the "you can do whatever you want, but you only have 30 minutes to answer a page" idea), then you are essentially work bound, and not free to use your time at your own lesiure. For example, if while on-call, you could go spend a weekend at your parents, so long as you answer calls per company policy, and meet SLAs for handling issues, they you are only required to be paid while actually working, but if that company required you to stay "within 15 minutes of a connected computer at all times while on-call" then you are work bound, and must be compensated at at least a base acceptible rate during that time, including time-and-a-half as mandated for hours over 40.

    For example, at one of my employers, all i was required to do was return a paged call within 30 minutes. once the call was returned, it took about 5 minutes to determine what the issue was, but we had a 4 hour response SLA, so you could tell a customer, "I'm on call, and not at home, I'll call you back in 2 hours..." and that was acceptible. We were only paid for time actually logged on calls (rounded to the nearest hour). At another job, The 1 week a month you were on call, you were expected to keep a quiet household, be at home at all times aside from quick errands, and if you got a call, it had to be answered immediately, and you had to be logged in within 20 minutes of the call. We were paid 50% time for all hours "on call" except meals and sleeping and 100% time on calls (and time and a half as it applied only to time on calls).

    Further, in many states (including this one), even if only billable when actually on a call, it is illegal to be paid for less than 3 hours in any 24 hour period, regardless of the number of hours worked. It's also illegal to be compensated for less than 1 hour for any block of time spent working that is more than 1 hour apart from another billable hour. For example: on Sunday, you get a call at 10AM that lasts 30 minutes. You get another call at 3PM that lasts only 15 minutes. They have to pay yo

  • by dbc ( 135354 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @06:48PM (#30276330)

    This question seems to be a FAQ and SlashDot. Here is an approximation of what I posted last time. It is/was the actual policy at a Fortune 500 technology company during a time when I was the PHB that had to pay for the 24x7 coverage on a particular server.

    For your 40 hrs/week, you get your regular pay. For your time "on the pager", you get 25% of your regular hourly, until such time as it goes off. From the time the pager goes off, until you clear the trouble ticket, you get 100% plus any applicable shift/holiday/overtime premium.

    If you can dial in remotely and fix the problem, great for everyone. If not, you must be able to get from wherever you are to the server room in 30 minutes. 100% of the time you are on the pager, you must be in condition to work, ie: sober.

    So... does that sound like getting paid 25% for doing nothing? Not to me. You can't get more than a 30 minute drive from the plant -- so no ski trips for you that weekend. Going to a party? Better have cranberry juice. You are getting paid for making yourself available.

    My company had a policy that the cost of 24x7 coverage came out of the budget of the PHB demanding it. A very good policy, IMHO. Its too easy to ask for it otherwise, without considering the consequences, both in terms of dollar cost, and in terms of quality of life for the employees that provide the coverage.

  • What a cry baby... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @08:53PM (#30277858)
    First off ... he is an independent contractor. If he doesn't like being on call for his clients, he needs to negotiate his rates accordingly.

    If he can't change his rates because someone else is willing to do it, then tough. That's what the world of contracting is all about. Sorry your company laid you off and then re-hired you this way. Get off your ass and get another job, and deal with it until you can. If you can't get another job, maybe you just aren't that good. Deal with that also, it means you have to take the shit jobs to earn a living.

    And why is a webmaster being called at all hours of the day and night?? Is it because the site keeps going down?? Then it's your own fucking fault .. fix it and learn how to build sites that don't crash. If it's because you are installing on the weekends, I guess that means you don't have to work on Monday, do you.

    Get some cajones and learn to stand up and take responsibility for your own life. You let people take advantage of you, this happens.
  • My on-call stories (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Punk Walrus ( 582794 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @09:31PM (#30278144) Journal

    My first on call job I had programming call centers for a major company. My basic job was manning the hotline during the weekday from 6am-3pm, doing tickets, and whatnot. The rest was being on call which was shared for a week between 5 people. Every week, there was one primary, and one alternate. The primary from the following week was the alternate for the next week, and so on. It came out that you were only on call 2 out of 5 weeks, and that was fine.

    Until the politics came into play.

    After about a year, one person "graduated" to a new position where he wouldn't have to be on call. Another person left the company, and was never really replaced. So now I was on call 2/3 weeks. In theory. The other two people were very lazy. One of them was some Orthodox religious person who seemed to have major holidays and festivals about twice a month where she could not be on call and she'd "trade weeks" with one of us, but never really did more than say she'd take "next week, for sure." The other was a kind of a nightclub-hopping single "ladies man" who dressed sharp and partied hard. Even when he was on call, he couldn't hear the pager or would take hours to reply.

    My boss just rolled over, because she was afraid they'd pull some EOE stint, and she was sort of passing the time until she left on maternity leave. So I was unofficially "on call" 24x7 for about half a year. I got paged about 2-3 times a night, on average, with jobs that went from a 5-10 minute fix to some that lasted many hours. I got no extra pay, and when review time came around, I got a 3% raise. I was making about a third of the wages of someone else in my position, so she pulled the "well, you're not perfect enough for industry standard" card. My response was to quit.

    For up to a year afterward, I still got a few calls a month from the former clients, vendors, and business partners. Most knew I didn't work there anymore, but, "Pleeeeeaaaaase, can you fix this? No one is answering the pages!" No.

    In other jobs, I was compensated with unofficial "comp time," and sometimes a cash bonus as a kind of "thanks for covering our ass." Comp time works like, "You worked all night fixing that?" Pfft, don't come in tomorrow, or "I am adding an extra vacation day you can use in any way you see fit later."

  • by djh101010 ( 656795 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @11:06PM (#30278746) Homepage Journal
    I have a very talented team of guys working for me. At this time, I pull a call rotation just like they do. Our employer pays us about 100 bucks a week when we're on call, to be available. It really mostly means just weekends, as we have 24x5 coverage. I've worked a lot of jobs where on-call wasn't paid, and, every time, being paged was mightily annoying. At least now it pays a bit. Being able to tell a prospective hire who I want to come work for me that on-call actually pays 100 bux a week, has helped me to land at least 2 of the last 4 people I've hired. It's not a big expense for the employer, and your talent that you want to hire will see you as better than the other potential employers if you pay for on-call. The market for Unix admins especially, is getting much better in the last 6 months (for job seekers). If you don't offer your potential hires some sort of differentiating factor, you risk losing them to those of us who understand that talent warrants respect, which is best shown to techies in the form of payment. Translation for managers: Trust your techie team leads; pay your techies for the extra work they do. If you respect them, they'll work harder for you. If you pull the "your job is to be here 9 to 5, on-call hours don't change that" crap, then I will be happy to hire them away from you as someone who DOES respect the techies.
  • by CFD339 ( 795926 ) <> on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @01:21AM (#30279644) Homepage Journal

    I do this kind of work for a living, as a consultant who provides support for the work I've done.

    In one case, a client of mine relies pretty heavily on my work and has for many years. She knows that if she calls with an urgent problem, I'll do everything I reasonably can to get back to her as quickly as possible -- day or night. In return, she knows not to raise the panic flag on little stuff during off hours. That's good enough in most cases.

    We've talked about going to an SLA with, for example, a 4 hour response time on critical issues. My answer to that, is that when we move from "best reasonable effort" to a contracted response time -- even though I am nearly always inside that window already -- the cost goes from being covered by our regular work to several thousand dollars a month. Once it's a contracted promise like that, I have to keep backup people trained on the systems in case I'm on a long flight or get sick (or whatever) and I have to wear a pager, and get no time off without paying someone to cover for me.

    There are ABSOLUTELY times when it makes sense to pay for that kind of coverage. I could even argue that this system is important enough that she should do it, but I also have to be clear that for 99% of the time -- and has always been the case for the last ehemteen years -- it will be money that doesn't buy any new results.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.