It's pretty clear-cut that when you report to work and begin your duties, you're entitled to receive pay for your time. Gray areas occur when your employer wants you to stand by for duty when you're not technically on the clock. This is "on-call" time and it's required of employees frequently enough that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has released guidelines to identify under what circumstances you should receive pay for these hours.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA, if you're physically at the location of your employer's business, you should receive pay for these hours even if you're not technically working. For example, if you're hired as a customer service representative and your only job is to field telephone calls, and if the phone system goes down for eight hours, you're on call and you should receive pay. You're standing by waiting for the telephone company to restore service.
Restrictions May Count as Well
Disputes about pay usually occur when employees must stand by during their off hours. In this case, the Department of Labor indicates that whether you're entitled to receive pay depends on the restrictions placed on your free time. If you go about your business with no inconvenience other having to keep your cell phone nearby in case your employer calls, you're not working and your employer has no obligation to compensate you. If the on-call time restricts what you can do with your free hours to a significant extent, you may be working and may be entitled to pay.
Work-Related Activity Should Be Compensated
You should receive compensation for any work you actually do while you're on call. This is labor, not on-call time. If your employer calls you in and you spend an hour fixing a problem, you should receive compensation for the hour even if you're not paid for the time you spent waiting for the call. If you receive an excessive number of phone calls from your employer while you're on call, this could qualify for pay as well, because it acts as a restriction on your free time. At the very least, you should receive payment for the accumulated time you spent on the phone.
You May Have Options
If your free time is consistently affected by your employer's phone calls or because you're frequently summoned back to work on short notice, speak with a lawyer to find out if you have a claim for on-call time or overtime. State laws differ and these issues are often decided on a case-by-case basis depending on particular circumstances and conditions.
An Employment Law Attorney Can Help
The law surrounding on-call time is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an employment law attorney.