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Do we have to compensate employees who answer pagers off-the-clock?

by on
in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Q. We require certain employees to be on-call for customer service needs that arise after hours. Employees carry a pager while on-call, and are expected to respond to pages right away. Do we have to pay our employees regular wages, or a minimum number of hours and overtime for being on call?

A. Under the wage-and-hour laws, you are required to pay an employee for being on-call only if the employee is so restricted that the time spent while on-call is not really his or her own. That has to be analyzed by looking at all the facts and circumstances of the individual situation.

If it appears that an employee’s personal freedom is severely restricted (so the time is being predominately spent for the employer’s benefit) then you must pay at least minimum wage and any applicable overtime for the time spent on-call.

Based upon the scant facts you’ve provided, it does not appear that you would need to compensate employees for their time spent waiting to see if they receive a call on their pagers. Presumably, your employees can be away from work engaging in other activities, with the only restriction being that if they receive a page, they need to attend to the work issue that has arisen. Under similar circumstances, courts have ruled that such time is not compensable.

While you may not be obligated to compensate the employees for their on-call time, you are obligated to pay employees their applicable regular or overtime wage rate for any time actually spent working once a call is received.

In many workplaces, employers offer a certain minimum “reporting pay”—such as two hours—even if the actual time worked is less than that. There is no legal requirement, however, for such a minimum.

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