On-Call Pay in California

On-Call Pay in California

California designed its on-call pay laws to balance employees' needs with employers' demands. As a result, whether on-call time is compensable depends on several factors.

When it comes to on-call pay in California, on-call time is compensable based on the extent to which being on-call restricts an employee's freedom during the on-call period.

Other determining factors include geographical restrictions placed on employees, how quickly an employee must respond, the nature of the employee’s employment, and the extent to which the employer's policy impacts the employee’s activities during on-call time.

Keep reading to learn more about how and when on-call time is compensable in the Golden State, on-call laws, and their implications for California employees.

What Is On-Call Work in California?

Certain professions require employees to be available during specified hours, often outside regular work hours. This condition is known as on-call work. While on-call workers must be available to their employer for the entirety of the on-call period, they are not required to perform work-related tasks until their employer asks them to do so. In California, employers use several methods to determine if on-call work is compensable.

Does My Employer Have to Pay Me for On-Call Work?

For on-call pay in California, employers must compensate employees for all hours worked, including compensable on-call time. Additionally, California labor laws dictate that on-call pay must meet the state's minimum wage requirements and any applicable overtime rates. But when is on-call work considered compensable? 

One key consideration in California's approach to on-call time is between “controlled” and “uncontrolled” standby, otherwise known as the “Control Test.”

Factors such as geographical limitations and the nature of job interruptions play a pivotal role in this assessment, influencing the compensability of on-call hours. Other considerations include standards set by historical precedent.

Controlled Standby

Controlled standby refers to scenarios where work-related constraints significantly limit an employee's freedom to engage in personal activities, for instance, when an employer requires an employee to remain at a worksite or close to it.

This time is considered work time and is therefore compensable. One example is when employers require security personnel to stay on location—they are paid for all their time, regardless of their activities during standby, which could range from sleeping to personal activities like watching TV.

In other words, if an employee is required to be on-call and it restricts their freedom during that period, they must be paid for the time spent waiting.

Uncontrolled Standby

On the other hand, uncontrolled standby is less restrictive. Uncontrolled standby time, where employees are free to conduct their business but must keep their cellphones on, generally isn’t compensable. In this case, employers would only pay employees for the actual hours worked during these periods. 

Ward v. Tilly’s Inc.

A critical legal case in California, Ward v. Tilly’s Inc., further defined on-call reporting. It determined that if employers require employees to call in to find out if they need to work, it counts as reporting to work. As such, even if an employer doesn’t call an employee in to work physically, the employee may still qualify for a form of compensation known as reporting time pay.

This ruling emphasized that on-call shifts can impose significant burdens on employees, such as making last-minute childcare arrangements, preventing them from securing other employment, or inhibiting their personal activities.

Beyond the Control Test and case law, other state mandates protect an employee’s on-call wage rights. An employment lawyer at Starpoint can explain these California on-call provisions to you and help you understand these rights.

What California On-Call Laws Protect My On-Call Pay Rights?

California’s Department of Industrial Relations states, “An employer is obligated to pay the wages of an hourly employee for all time that the employee is under the control of the employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so” and that “on-call or standby time at work is considered hours worked for which an employee must be compensated even if the employee does nothing but wait for something to happen.”

California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) also enforces the state’s Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders, which dictate minimum wage and on-call payments in different industries. 

Overtime Laws and On-Call Hours

In California, non-exempt workers typically earn overtime for work that exceeds eight hours per day, forty hours per week, or six consecutive days in a workweek.

Controlled standby hours count towards these overtime pay calculations. It includes time spent on-call doing nothing, as long as it's controlled and considered work time.  

Recourse for Non-Compliance

California employees are entitled to fair compensation for all hours, including on-call time. Employees who believe their employer violated California on-call pay laws can file a wage claim with the DLSE or pursue legal action against their employer. Following these steps may result in an investigation and compensation. 

It’s also important to note that California and federal laws protect employees from retaliation for asserting their rights to on-call pay. These laws prohibit employers from taking adverse actions, such as terminating or demoting employees for reporting on-call pay violations. An experienced employment attorney at Starpoint Law, LC, can explain the impact of on-call laws on your specific pay and profession.

Starpoint Law, LC Your On-Call Pay and Employment Law Experts

At Starpoint Law, we fight tirelessly to ensure you get the compensation and workplace respect you deserve. If you’re having trouble getting your employer to pay you the on-call wages you’re entitled to, contact us for a free consultation. We always put our clients first and will stand by you from the moment you retain us to the resolution of your claim. 

Our advocates know how important it is that you hold those who've wronged you responsible; it’s important to us, too. That’s why we carefully select cases we know we can win, resulting in over $11 million in settlements and verdicts for our clients. As your faithful advocates, you can trust us to always look out for what's best for you.

Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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