California (and federal) employment laws can be quite complicated, but certain key points tend to be spelled out in an extremely clear and straightforward way so that working people can easily understand their rights in the workplace.
What some workers don’t know, however, is that, in California, this includes “on-call” and “standby” hours. In fact, unless you are working under an employment contract that specifically makes provisions for reduced on-call pay, you may be entitled to receive your regular rate of pay any time your employer requires you to be on call and available to them.
Of course, employment laws and regulations are constantly being updated to reflect an evolving society, economy, and employment landscape, and California’s on-call laws are no exception. California workers have the right to be fully compensated for all time spent under their employer’s control, whether they’re actively working on the job site or on call at home. It is important to know the most recent updates to these rules to understand California’s on-call laws in 2023.
Understanding When You’re Entitled to Payment
To know whether you’re being correctly paid for on-call and other types of on-the-job time, you’ll first need to understand what activities qualify. All Californians are entitled to be compensated by their employer for time spent:
- Actively at work
- On “standby” but under their employer’s control
- Responding to a work call
- Traveling to and from the work site
According to state labor laws, you must be paid at least the minimum wage—which is currently $15.50 in most parts of the state but higher in others—for time spent doing any of the above.
Note that on-call time must also be counted toward calculating overtime.
Knowing When You’re “On Call”
“On-call” or “standby” time refers to any time you spend not actively working but still under your employer’s control. This typically involves being tethered to a company cell phone or pager after your normal office hours. Nurses and tech support professionals are two types of workers whose jobs may require on-call shifts. It is important to understand your right to be paid for this time so that you’re not taken advantage of.
Some employers may try to circumvent these laws through subterfuge, such as by disguising on-call responsibilities through phrases other than “on call” or “standby.” Rather than telling you that you have mandatory on-call hours this weekend, they may emphasize that you “need to be a team player” when called upon to do extra and may even punish you if you attempt to ignore these outside-of-work demands. This is not acceptable, and a qualified employment attorney can help you hold such an employer accountable.
Some examples of on-call time (for which an employee should be paid) include:
- A systems analyst for a large bank must be available on their work phone for branches that are having trouble formatting their deposit files, including branches at other times.
- A line cook at a busy restaurant is told they will be fired if they’re not available to come in when the kitchen is shorthanded during a dinner rush.
- A healthcare professional is instructed that they must arrive at the hospital within 30 minutes of being called by a superior or face formal disciplinary action.
- The head of a security team must travel to the job site to clear the area when alerted to a disturbance via mobile technology.
The common thread throughout all these examples is a worker who is not actively engaging in job duties but is required to be ready to work at instant notice, which keeps them from doing anything else meaningful with their time. When you’re on call, your time still belongs to your employer because you can’t head out on a road trip, invest in a nice night out, or take the kids to the waterpark—many people don’t even want to sit down and start a movie when they know their work phone might interrupt them at any instant. While time spent sleeping can indeed count as on-call time, many workers find it difficult to get quality sleep with on-call duty looming over them. For all these reasons, your employer must pay you adequately for on-call time.
Defining “On Call” in Legal Context
The California Supreme Court has established some specific factors that can be used to determine whether your employer has control over you to a sufficient extent that you need to be paid:
- Is the employee required to live at the work site?
- Are there significant geographical restrictions on the employee’s free movement?
- Is the employee called back to work at a frequency that can be considered unduly restrictive?
- Are there restrictive time limits regarding the employee’s response to being called in?
- Does the employee have the option to easily trade on-call responsibilities with a coworker?
- Is the employee engaged in significant personal activities during their “on-call” time, or is the time primarily dedicated to the employer?
The individual answer to any one of the above questions will not make or break a case; rather, they are all factors a court may consider when looking at a dispute regarding on-call pay.
How to Proceed If You’re Not Being Paid for On-Call Time
If you believe that your California-based employer is not correctly paying you for hours spent on call, there are various remedies you can seek under the law. You can file a formal complaint with the state’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement at the Department of Industrial Relations or sue your employer directly for violating the law. Before proceeding with either course, you should consult a qualified employment attorney who can help you understand your full range of legal options and build a winning strategy for the process to come.
Q: What Is the Policy for On-Call and Standby Time and Pay in California?
A: In California, you must be paid at least the minimum wage (currently $15.50) for all on-call and standby hours. Under most contracts, you should be paid your full, normal wage for these hours, but this is not always the case. On-call/standby hours are any hours where you are not actively engaged in job duties but are still under your employer’s control.
Q: Is On-Call Time the Same as Standby Time in California?
A: Yes, in terms of California employment law, there is no practical difference between “on-call” and “standby” hours. In real-world usage, “on call” may be more typically used to refer to someone who is at home with a pager or company phone waiting to be called back in, where “standby” might refer to an employee who has extensive idle hours on the job site, such as a security or safety professional who is only obligated to respond to an emergency situation.
Q: What Are the Employment Law Changes for 2023 in California?
A: On-call rules aren’t the only thing changing in the state in 2023. For example, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is a law that provides the working people of California with certain rights and benefits. For example, it gives eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to deal with a serious health condition or a new baby in the house. At the beginning of 2023, California AB 1949 went into law, amending the CFRA regulations regarding protected time off for bereavement to provide up to 5 days for qualifying situations. The state’s minimum wage also saw an increase to $15.50 this year, with some localities having their own, higher minimums set.
Q: What Are the Labor Laws for On-Call Shifts in California?
A: Labor laws for on-call shifts are essentially the same as labor laws for any other type of work, except where explicit differences are laid out by law. Generally, California law treats on-call hours much the same as any other working hours. When you are on call, your employer cannot harass you, discriminate against you, or otherwise abuse you, just as if you were actively at work.
The Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams Can Help
If your employer owes you money for unpaid on-call hours, you have the legal right to seek justice. The Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams have a record of success holding employers accountable for shortchanging the working people of California, and we’d be proud to help you, too. Contact us today for a no-pressure consultation.