In California, workers are entitled to pay any time the job makes demands of their time. One of the most common violations of this law is seen in on-call policies. In the mind of an exploitative employer, staff don’t need to be paid unless they are on-site and performing assigned tasks. This leaves them free to unofficially book staff ‘on-call’ and then only call who they need at any given time. Sound familiar?
Your Time is Your Money
This tactic of on-call scheduling keeps employees hanging, waiting by the telephone with as little as 15 minutes notice before they know if, today, they’ll be called on to work or left twisting in the wind without plans or a paycheck. Some employees are kept on the hook the entire on-call period, with the chance to be called in at any point during the hours they might normally work. This is illegal.
In the eyes of the California law, any time that your employer demands that cannot be used to schedule personal activities must be paid.
If you can’t work another job, if you can’t schedule your kid’s birthday party, and if you could be fired for not waiting by the phone, your employer is officially using your time.
Today, we’re here to paint a vivid picture of what being illegally on-call is like. Not just an on-paper definition of hours and availability, but what it looks like in real life, in real workplace situations. If you see your own experience reflected in these scenarios, it’s time to examine if your time is being legally paid for. These examples are not true testimonials, but each are an amalgam of hundreds of experiences that happen to real California employees every year.
Anya in Retail
Anya works retail, but doesn’t have a set schedule of days and hours. Instead, she is always ‘on call’. She never knows if she will be working mornings or afternoons, but she is young and was okay with the uncertain schedule, so she comes in each time she is called. Until her niece’s 5th birthday party. A party she mentions to her manager two weeks ahead of time with verbal approval.
The afternoon of the party, Anya gets the call and politely declines. She knows there are other people who would be glad for the hours. She thinks everything is okay and attends her niece’s party. But after that, Anya gets far fewer calls to work. When she asks why, Anya is told that she “failed to show up for work” and had been demoted in favor of coworkers who showed more dedication.
Anya realized then that her ‘on-call’ time wasn’t really her own if she could be penalized for scheduling a family event. After some research online, she confirmed this was an illegal practice and contacted an employment lawyer to address her employer’s abuses that undoubtedly extended beyond her own experiences.
Roy in Customer Service
Roy is physically handicapped and recently found a new job where he can work from home. It sounded like a dream job. Customer service through a digital phone line that connected through his computer. Roy’s job would be to answer the phone when customers called with questions about the company or product. He would need to have high-speed internet and be available at his workstation during a set number of hours. The hourly rate was better than he expected and, doing the math, he could pay all his bills based on his set hours and the rate he’d be paid.
Roy passed the video-chat interview with flying colors and got the job on the spot. He immediately memorized the handbook and was ready at his computer at 7 AM Monday. Roy worked 7 AM to 9PM every day for the next week (lunch excluded), and was dedicated to the work. The calls weren’t steady and sometimes he had as much as two hours between one call and the next. He used this time to study-up on policy, customer service technique, and take care of a few online personal tasks.
However, when Roy’s first paycheck came in, it was for less than a third of the hours he’d put in. When Roy brought this up to his manager, surely an accounting error, he was told that money was for the hours they’d clocked him being on the phone with a customer. Not for the hours he’d been required to sit at his desk waiting for the phone to ring. Roy suspected this was BS and called his buddy who had a lawyer brother who assured him that this practice was illegal if he wasn’t allowed to be away from the desk during this time.