On-call employees' working hours

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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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What's an on call employee and what sort of working hours are associated with this role? This guide explains everything your business needs to know.

Although often associated with emergency services, many businesses use on-call staff. They’re essentially a standby employee. And it’s when, outside of normal working hours, they’re ready to carry out work when you tell them. Such an approach is in use when a business has an unexpected or emergency demand outside of traditional working hours. There’ll often be on-call shifts where the worker is never required to do work, or somewhere they are actually working for the whole time.

On-call working time laws

Under the working time directive for on-call hours, ‘working time’ is where someone works at your disposal and carries out their activity or duties. But does this apply to on-call time? There are generally two different types of on-call working.

  1. The first is where the worker has to be at their normal workplace for the length of the on-call shift, waiting to carry out their duties. In this situation, the whole time spent on-call is working time.
  2. The second is where the worker is free to do whatever they want during the on-call shift but, when told to work, they must follow the order.

This could mean they spend the shift at home, at the cinema, etc. essentially anywhere but at work. For this type of on-call working, only time spent carrying out tasks are working hours. There’s also a cross type of on-call where the worker is free to do whatever they want during the shift, subject to restrictions. These restrictions could be that the worker:

  • Must be able to attend the workplace within a certain period of time, e.g. 15 minutes from the notification time.
  • Must live in a location within a set distance of the workplace at all times, e.g. 5 miles away.
  • Cannot consume alcohol.
  • Must be able to drive at all times.
  • Must be awake within set times e.g. from 10 pm – 12 pm.
  • Must be contactable by phone at all times.

As these restrictions mean the worker can’t spend the on-call time at their leisure carrying out their activities, it’s likely this time spent on-call is working time. The more restrictions in place, the more likely the chance they’re at your disposal. For example, the requirement to be within a set distance of the workplace means they cannot go to a restaurant that is further away than their home, or they cannot attend the cinema as they will be unable to answer their phone.

Why does it matter if on-call time is working time?

Having time spent on-call classed as working time will impact on:

  • The maximum 48-hour working week, unless the worker has opted-out.
  • Minimum rest breaks.
  • Minimum rest periods.
  • National minimum wage compliance where the staff members receives close to statutory rates.

What business rules should be in place?

It’s important those carrying out on-call work understand the company rules and procedures. After all, they’re often required to carry out their duties in an emergency, or within a short time period. Also, as they work outside of normal working hours, it’s likely they’ll be working without direct supervision or management control. You can use an on-call policy to set out:

  • The responsibilities of employees who are on-call.
  • Any restrictions placed on workers whilst they are on-call.
  • The duties their role involves.
  • How you’ll contact the employee to carry out the for (for example, if you’ll send them a text message or call them).
  • What to do once the employee receives contact i.e. do they have to attend work first or can they go straight to the job?
  • Whether additional benefits are in place for on-call work e.g. higher pay rates.
  • Health and safety rules for on-call workers.

Calling staff out of hours

Due to the nature of on-call work, you may have to make a phone call after work hours. So, what are the laws regarding this? It depends on your contract of employment. If the employee if paid every hour and is exempt from overtime, then ringing them and asking about work isn’t illegal—but your staff member won’t appreciate it. If your employee is non-exempt then you don’t pay them for calls or emails during the working week or weekend. But you can establish in your business policy your stance on this matter so your staff is aware of the company procedure.

 Looking for more help?

With our guidance, we’ll make sure you have the right rules in place to ensure your business is compliant with your employees’ on-call hours worked. Get in touch today: 0800 028 2420.


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