Q. When do we have to count “on-call” time as hours worked? —L.G., California
A. The U.S. Labor Department says you have to pay for on-call time if the employee isn't able to use that time “effectively for his own purposes.” That phrase hinges on the type of restrictions you place on on-call employees and how often they're actually called to work.
For example, a federal court in your state recently said that a mechanic's on-call time should not be counted as hours worked because he was required to be available only by phone, was not required to stay at the work site or at home, and he responded to an average of only six calls per year.
By contrast, if you ask on-call workers to remain in a certain location, respond to a call within a few minutes, or you call them frequently for work, the on-call time is compensable.