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On Call Time – Paid Or Unpaid

When we wait around for something to happen –  waiting for someone to show up, standing in a long line, counting down the minutes till we leave for an appointment, or being on call – we seem to do a little less with our time than we otherwise would. It’s like we can’t get too involved because our activity might get cut short.

Waiting can be annoying, but being on call can interfere with life in a more serious way. If half your week’s schedule is on call, as is the case in many retail environments these days, it can be very hard to move forward or make plans.

Employees can’t work a second job or take higher education classes. They might waste money scheduling day care that ends up unneeded. And they cannot effectively plan their budget. On call employees are often scheduled for 30 hours and only end up working 10 or 15. How do these employees manage their money?

The fact is, when waiting happens occasionally, it’s no big deal. When it happens all the time, it cuts into life, big time.

An Unfair Labor Practice

Urban Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret, and many nationwide retail chains, have long since required employees to be on call in case the store gets busy. This way, the stores have the coverage they need but don’t really have to pay for it. The practice may have gained some traction during the recession when employees were really hurting for jobs and consumers were spending less. For some people, being on call may be no big deal. If you’re just going to be doing home work, reading, or watching tv anyway, then being on call just doesn’t matter much. But if you live an active and social lifestyle, have kids or a second job, or need to take night classes, it can be seriously disruptive.

On Call Employees – Paid vs Unpaid

Regardless of whether or not it’s right, it is technically legal in most places across the US. There is a grassroots movement called Retail Action Project, however, working to abolish this practice nationwide, as the city of San Francisco has already done. San Francisco requires employers to publish schedules two weeks in advance, so being on call is not an option.

On call employees should be paid when they…

  • Are limited geographically – If being on-call requires the employee to be strictly limited in his geographic freedom – meaning that he cannot go to the store or out to lunch – then it’s compensable. It’s hard to say exactly how close an employee should have to be to the work site. But requiring them to stay within a five-minute drive would almost always require they be paid for their time.
  • Must stay inside one building – When an employee is required to stay in the same place – whether at a work site or at home – the employee should almost definitely be paid.
  • Wear a uniform – If an employee has to wear a uniform, their on-call time is clearly restricted. They should be paid for their time on call.
  • Must respond quickly to a call – If an employee must respond to a call from work quickly, say immediately or within 10 or 15 minutes, a court might rule that this is overly restrictive and the employee should be paid.
  • Frequently end up working while on call – If an employee occasionally gets a call, it is clear that they are truly on-call but if they get calls nearly every on-call shift or many during one-on call shift, they are not just on-call they are on duty and should be paid.

The last two points are ones that retail stores should seriously consider before scheduling these types of employees. Maybe this is why Urban Outfitters got their friendly nudge from the New York attorney general. If the store got sued and had to face a judge, would they have passed the test?

Pay On Call Workers a Reduced Rate

You can pay on call workers minimum wage to avoid lawsuits and the bad feelings that come with being on call for no compensation. You can setup a special rate for on call work with your account. This way, at the end of a pay period, you won’t have to add up pay rates for regular work and pay rates for on call work; the system will do it for you.

While you might be paying employees for a few hours of time that they aren’t actually working, say the beginning of an evening shift, minimum wage isn’t a steep price if it can save you a world of trouble.

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