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Workers Waiting ‘On Call’ Must Be Paid, Court Rules

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Many companies require their workers to be ‘on call’, meaning they lay in wait to see if they are able to earn money on any given day. I am not talking only about doctors or firefighters, but people who work in retail or in the restaurant industry. These people often sacrifice free time, sleep, rest, socializing, education, and more to be on-call. If they don’t answer promptly, they may even be disciplined or fired.

Until recently, many companies didn’t pay their on-call workers. This certainly didn’t seem right to the employees who sacrifice their time. In fact, they often hang around their phone only to find out they won’t be able to work that day. Though they may not be at work, they are still dedicating time to their job. Therefore, it’s not surprising that workers wanted to be compensated for their time. Well, in California, It looks like that is finally coming to an end.

Court Ruling to Protect On-Call Workers

According to a new decision by the Second District Court of appeal in Los Angeles, California, any employee required to be on call before a work shift should be paid for their two-hour on-call period even if they are not called into work. All employees are protected by a 1943 California Industrial wage order that allows employees to report their pay time as soon as they need to report to work. The recent decision favors the employee by including on-call time in this interpretation.

Why Should People Be Paid for On-Call Time

In this particular case, retail store employees argued their on-call time marks the beginning of their shift. Employees felt they should be paid for the time their employers are able to call them. It turns out the law protects them as soon as they call in. The problem with ‘on call’ is that even if employees don’t get called, they still have to sacrifice rest, recreation, or socializing in case they are called in. They are still at the beck and call of the employer even if they are not technically performing their job tasks.

The 1943 reporting was created to protect and pay employees who had to physically show up at work. However, it is not only unfair to workers ‘on call’ but also doesn’t work in our society where ‘on call’ is so easy to arrange with technology. This setup was completely to the benefit of the employer because the alternative to the workers was a loss of employment. Therefore, workers could either be on-call without pay or find another job.

The current ruling was, therefore, a huge victory for anyone who was denied payment for their on-call time, including people in retail and hospitality. Even though workers are not at work performing their explicit job functions, their time is still dedicated to their employer. In a capitalist economy where time is money, employers are renting time from their workers and then get to dictate how they use that time. This is no different when workers are on-call.

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