Employee Rights During On-Call Employment

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Employee Rights During On-Call EmploymentIf you employ on-call workers for some period of time during the work week, you will want to have a strong understanding of employee rights during on-call employment. Business owners, human resources professionals, and operations managers need to be aware of the federal and state laws laying out rights for on-call employees.

Likewise, if you are a Maryland employee, you will want to know as much as possible about your rights when you are scheduled to be on-call. Maryland employers must pay employees for all hours worked. This is defined as beginning when an employee must be on duty at the employer’s premises or prescribed workplace and extends to all hours that employees are required to be at work—even if they are not “officially” on the clock

Whether you are a worker or a business owner, Smithey Law Group can help. We represent both employers and employees in workplace law matters. In this blog post, we will help untangle some of the facts and myths about on-call employment. We will help both employers and employees get the information they need to know about employee rights during on-call employment. Contact us today to learn more.

What Does On-Call Mean?

When an employee is required to be available for work in the event they should be called in by their employer—without being formally scheduled for working hours—they are considered to be “on-call.” On-call workers are most often found in industries and businesses that are unpredictable by nature. These industries can include the medical field and other first responders, utility repair and maintenance, information technology repair, and others.

Sometimes, entire jobs are considered on-call, and other times, employees are asked or required to choose on-call shifts. These employees are the ones who must respond to work needs regardless of the time or day of the week once they are notified. 

Sometimes, on-call shifts require workers to come to or stay at their workplace while on-call. This enables them to respond quickly should a situation occur. Other on-call work allows a worker to enjoy personal time—like having a day off—all the while remaining ready to report to work immediately upon being notified.

What Counts as On-Call Time?

Calculating a Workweek

Employers may have different policies regarding how on-call payment works and how workweeks are calculated. Often, on-call team members receive overtime pay for any on-call work outside of 40 hours per week. Maryland defines a workweek as 168 consecutive hours that are “fixed and regularly occurring.” Payment for on-call hours, or the time on-call workers spend waiting to be notified of a need for action, may depend on whether the team member’s waiting involves any restrictions and what their employee rights during on-call employment actually are.

Restricted on-call status

This type of work might mean that the on-call team members must remain near work premises or focus on work duties while waiting. This type of work often requires payment. If an employee is required to remain at home or within a certain distance from the office, their on-call time would likely be considered hours worked, and they would be given on-call pay. Similarly, if an employee’s personal activities are restricted, you will probably need to give them on-call pay. For instance, prohibiting an employee from drinking alcohol or participating in other activities that might interfere with their performance during their on-call hours would usually require them to be paid for the entire time. The number of restrictions or requirements placed on an employee’s personal time can help determine whether they should be paid.

Non-restricted on-call status

This type of on-call work might allow individuals to go wherever they please and do whatever personal activities they choose as long as they are available to return to work if they receive a call. Payment for this type of on-call work may depend on your employer. Employers are likely not required to pay employees for on-call time if the employee is free to leave the employer’s premises—consequence free—to use the time for their own purposes and are only expected to engage in work when instructed by the employer to do so. 

Minimum Wage

Despite the considerations above, Maryland’s minimum wage law does not specifically address when employers must count employees’ on-call time as hours worked for purposes of minimum wage and overtime requirements. Based on the definition of hours worked and Maryland’s Department of Labor, an employer is likely required to pay an employee for on-call time if they are required to remain at the employer’s premises or other designated workplace. Broader and more holistic employment rights for on-call employees are not necessarily strictly considered under the Maryland minimum wage law. 

Additional Considerations

Things like sleeping time and travel time may be considered when assessing whether someone should be paid for their on-call hours. For instance, if an employee is required to stay within a certain distance from the office, or must sleep at the employer’s premises (if at all), then these circumstances may mean that the employee’s time is considered restricted. Thus the employee should likely be paid for on-call hours.

Does Your Company Have an On-Call Employment Policy?

If you are an employer, clearly communicate your company’s guidelines and expectations to all employees who may be required to work on-call. Because on-call work is often unpredictable, business owners and managers need procedures covering both workers and management. 

For employees, having employee rights during on-call employment spelled out in a handbook or checklist makes assessing opportunities, fairness, and pay much easier. It also makes it easier to identify roles that are eligible for on-call work, on-call restrictions, job requirements, schedule changes, and how to request time off. Knowledge is power, and in this case, can benefit both employer and employees.

How Smithey Law Can Help

If you need to speak with an Annapolis employee rights lawyer about an on-call work matter, contact Joyce E. Smithey to arrange a confidential consultation. She is the Managing Partner in the Maryland law firm of Smithey Law Group, and she represents employers and employees throughout Maryland and the D.C. area. To schedule a confidential consultation with our Annapolis workplace law attorneys, call us or contact us online today.

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Joyce Smithey, a seasoned employment and labor law attorney, has over 22 years of experience representing both employers and employees in Maryland and D.C. Her practice, rooted in a deep understanding of employment law, spans administrative hearings to federal litigation. Joyce's approach is comprehensive, focusing on protecting client interests while ensuring legal compliance. A Harvard graduate, her career began in Fortune 500 companies, transitioning to law after a degree from Boston University School of Law. Joyce's expertise is recognized by numerous awards, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women. At Smithey Law Group LLC, which she founded in 2018, Joyce continues to champion employment rights, drawing on her rich background in law and business.

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