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On Call Time – Paid Or Unpaid

When we wait for something to happen –  waiting for somebody to show up; standing in a long line, counting down the minutes until we leave for an appointment, or being on call – we look to do a little less with our time than we differently would. It’s like we cannot get too involved because our actions might get cut short.

Waiting can be bothersome, but being on-call can meddle with life more seriously. If half your week’s plan is on call; as is the case in many retail scenes these days, it can be tough to move forward or make plans.

Employees cannot work a second job or take higher education classes. They might lose money scheduling daycare that ends up unneeded. And they cannot efficiently plan their budget. On-call workers are often programmed for 30 hours and only end up working 10 or 15. How do these workers manage their money?

The fact is, when waiting happens infrequently, 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 national retail chains have long since needed workers to be on call if the store gets busy. This is how the stores have the coverage they need but do not have to pay for it. The work may have got some traction during the recession when employees were hurting for jobs and customers were spending less. For some people, being on-call might not be a big deal. If you are going to be doing homework, reading, or watching tv anyway, then being on call does not matter much. But if you live an active and social lifestyle, have kids or a second job, or require to take night classes, it can be severely disruptive.

On-Call Employees – Paid vs. Unpaid

Notwithstanding whether or not it is right, it is technically legal in most places across the United States. There is a grassroots movement which is called Retail Action Project; however, working to eradicate this practice nationwide; as the city of San Francisco has already done. San Francisco needs 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 needs the worker to be strictly limited in his geographic freedom – meaning that he can’t go to the store or out to lunch – then it is compensable. It is difficult to say precisely how close a worker should have to be to the workplace. But wanting them to stay within a five-minute drive would almost always need they be paid for their time.
  • Must stay inside one building – When a worker is expected to remain in the same place – whether at a workplace or home – the worker should almost surely be paid.
  • Wear a uniform – If a worker has to wear a uniform, their on-call time is explicitly restricted. They should be paid for their time on call.
  • Must respond quickly to a call – If a worker must respond to a call from work immediately, say immediately or within 10 or 15 minutes; a court might rule that this is overly limiting and the worker should be paid.
  • Frequently end up working while on call – If a worker 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 set up a special rate for on-call work with your TimeLive 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 that they aren’t working, say the beginning of an evening shift, the minimum wage isn’t a steep price if it can save you a world of trouble.

Alma Reed is an author and researcher dedicated to enhancing productivity. She is deeply interested in areas such as time management, increasing productivity, and fostering healthy routines. Through her writing, she aims to assist people in boosting their job performance and attaining an ideal balance between work and life.

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