Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On-call responsibilities still provoke workplace controversy, and sometimes litigation risk


Workforce has an important issue on a testy topic in the I.T. world (as well as medical world, as discussed here), being “on call”.

Yes, employers can require salaried, exempt employees to be on-call and not compensate them for the time, unless it provides major intrusion into the use of the employee’s own time. Geographical restrictions on the employee’s whereabouts could be an issue, and forbidding employees to trade onccall time could also be risky. In some shops, some employees with family responsibility (after pregnancy, for example) will not be able to perform these duties, leading to resentment among other employees (especially single or childless or even LGBT) who must pick up the slack without being compensated. (This gets into Phillip Longman’s concerns about “social contract” and childlessness.) Yet, there are “exceptions”: some people with several kids still do more than their share of the oncall “sacrifice”.

Of course, a weak ecnomomy, and the possibility that and employer can offshore work more cheaply, can make salaried workers feel intimidated and willing to "sacrifice" or "work for free" or even lowball other employees (those with more family responsibility at home) to keep a job. It's easy to imagine how this could lead to discrimination or EEOC complaints. No wonder unions push "solidarity".

Contracting companies are often paid by the hour, but some contractors are paid salaries (corp-to-corp) by staffing companies, whereas others are paid W-2 and can charge for overtime (usually straight time), including taking calls.

Even some federal IT jobs at USAJobs warn applicants that on-call is sometimes required.

The shop that I worked in Dallas in the 1980s (Chilton Credit Reporting, now Experian after a couple of mergers) had an arrangement where you were always strictly responsible at night for your own system (in my case, daily and monthly billing, COBOL and ALC systems). So these sorts of tensions never arose. I was able to keep the system reliable and stable enough that in general there were few problems. (There was a bizarre problem one time when not everything got billed because of the way ALC halfword boundaries work after another programmer had done some maintenance; I still recall this 1986 incident!)

The Workforce article is titled “On-Call Disputes Create Litigation Dangers”, link here.

Workforce also has an article of litigation regarding workers being forced to work through meal breaks, here.

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