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On-Call Employee Compensation Policies

The Shelter Advisor: Answers to Common Questions

The Shelter Advisor: Answers to Common Questions

Q: Our shelter has just taken on animal control contracting for the region, and we're wondering how to formulate policies concerning payment for "on call" duty.—J.R., Nevada

A: "On-call" compensation differs widely from one organization to the next. In the case of government agencies, the terms are usually strictly dictated by law. But for private shelters contracting for animal control, there are multiple models for compensation based on the number of hours worked, the number of responses made, and so on. But it's important to begin by taking a closer look at the legal and ethical complexities that arise with on-call compensation.

Dean Hesse
If your on-call personnel are asked to respond to multiple calls during a shift, they may be legally entitled to full compensation for every minute of on-call duty.

Unfortunately, directors of private, nonprofit shelters often fail to recognize that on-call time is rarely time that an officer has entirely for his own enjoyment. When an officer is on call, he can't go grocery shopping and certainly wouldn't take his spouse out to dinner and a movie. No matter what the evening holds, if you take home a beeper, you're taking home a little extra stress as well. Because of this inconvenience, officers should be compensated for simply accepting on-call duty.

In fact, according to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must fully compensate employees when they "cannot use the time effectively for their own purposes." Because this condition cannot be explicitly defined, you'll have to judge each instance separately, considering the following:

  • Is the officer's travel restricted when on call?
  • Is the officer asked to respond to numerous calls while on call?
  • Is the officer prohibited from engaging in most personal activities while on call? (Note: Courts have ruled that it is acceptable to ask that employees not consume alcohol while on call.)
  • Is the officer required to wear a uniform while on call?
  • Is the officer required to monitor a radio while on call?
  • Is the officer expected to respond immediately when on call?

If you answer "yes" to most of these questions, you may need to compensate your employee for every minute that he carries a beeper; speak with your lawyer or human resources consultant for more details. If you find your officers must respond to calls regularly, you might even spare your employees and lower your payroll by simply hiring a permanent employee to work evening and weekend shifts.
Once you've determined what constitutes on-call duty, you can lay down some ground rules for compensation. Many officers employed by nonprofit organizations receive a flat fee for simply taking home the beeper—anywhere from $1 to $30—or payment equal to an hour or two of straight time. In some shelters, officers asked to respond to a call might also be paid time-and-a-half for every hour spent in the field, while others might be paid a lump sum whether the response takes 20 minutes or two hours; responses that take even more time usually call for an additional payment. Few agencies compensate officers for providing advice or information over the phone.

Note that according to the FLSA, employers that provide lump-sum payments must figure those payments into the hourly rate before calculating the overtime rate for that week. For example, if an employee is paid $9 per hour ($360 per week) and receives a $40 lump sum for on-call duty on a Saturday, his hourly rate that week is actually $400 divided by 40 hours, or $10 per hour; any overtime hours worked during that week should be compensated at $15 per hour.

Remember, regardless of your policy, your shelter must pay employees time-and-a-half for every hour worked over 40 or risk violating the FLSA. In some cases, employers have suggested that employees "volunteer" to work more than 40 hours as a condition of employment, and some workers have suggested the idea themselves. But according to the federal Department of Labor, no employee may volunteer time for any activity that resembles part of his work, because doing so introduces the possibility that an employer might violate minimum wage restrictions. As with all your organization's policies, on-call compensation policies should be recorded in an employee manual and presented to everyone before any concerns are raised.


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