On-Call Time Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

Economic pressures, changing family structures, and technology have increasingly blurred the line between work time and personal time. The rise of independent contracting, the growing number of families in which both parents work, and the. expanding reach of computer networks, fax machines, pagers, and mobile telephones, to provide a few examples, have blurred the once-familiar distinction between work time and leisure time. This distinction is particularly unclear for on-call employees. An on-call employee is one who may be physically away from the workplace but who remains connected to it by telephone, beeper, computer, or radio, and who must respond to the employer if called. While on call, an employee generally does not face the constraints he may face while on a regular shift at his employer’s premises. He may be able to go shopping or watch television during his on-call hours, for example. At the same time, even though he may have a greater measure of freedom than he does while working a normal shift, he is never truly free from work. The employer may interrupt the employee’s personal activities without warning, and the threat of interruption may prevent him from engaging in certain activities altogether, either because he would not be able to return to work quickly enough, or because some activities – such as attending movies or sporting events – require a solid block of time and thus would be impractical. Moreover, nonpayment for on-call time can be inequitable: employers obtain value from the on-call services, enabling them to reduce staff or limit compensable hours worked without compensating the employees who have forgone personal activities.