On-Call Duty Definition: Employee Rights and Legal Responsibilities

On-call duty

This article provides an overview of on-call duty, including its definition, how it works, and what the law says about it.

What does it mean to be on call?

On-call duty is when an employee is required to be available to work on short notice. It could mean being on call during regular work hours or 24/7. During on-call duty, an employee can be at home, at work, or anywhere else and wait for a possible call. 

It is vital that he can be reached within the previously specified period and that his work can start as quickly as possible. The on-call duty can be for a specific job or task, or it can be general.

An employee on call is not working but is required to be available to work if needed. It means that the employee can be called into work at any time, even outside their regular work hours.

What are examples of On-call duty

Local firefighters react to car accidents, home fires, and other emergencies. Firefighters must wait at the fire station for calls from emergency dispatchers. In their spare time, they ensure all emergency vehicles are in good working order, clean and arrange equipment, and stock first aid kits.

General practitioners provide normal physical exams at doctors offices and clinics. It includes examining their respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and weight. They refer more serious accidents or diseases to specialists. Off hours, GPs may take patient calls. They may analyze injuries, allergic responses, or conditions over the telephone and advise.

How does on-call service work?

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Employers and employees can negotiate an employment contract detailing whether on-call duty is to be offered and how long it will last. If an employee has agreed to perform the on-call task, he must come to the workplace and do his duties if necessary.

On-call shifts duties happen outside of regular working hours. Typically, employees are expected to be available for work during night hours or on weekends as part of this form of on-call time. They are permitted to choose their locations.

However, they should be ready to use quickly. That means they should have their work equipment ready to go and should not be too far from the workplace in case of a call. The employer may not be held responsible if an employee cannot report for work and respond quickly.

Not only do workers get to choose their location, but they also get to decide how to spend their time and complete their work while on call. The form of a work assignment varies depending on the occupation. For example, IT experts can solve problems from home using the internet, while in-house technicians will usually have to fix defects at the business site.

Laws on being on-call for work

Laws governing on-call work vary by location and job type. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Minimum wage and overtime: In many jurisdictions, on-call time may count as work time under minimum wage and overtime laws if the employee is restricted from their personal activities or required to be near their workplace. Consult local labor laws for specifics.

  • Meal and rest breaks: If on-call periods extend beyond usual working hours, ensure compliance with regulations regarding meal and rest breaks.

  • Notice requirements: Some regions mandate providing employees with specific advance notice before requiring them to respond to an on-call request.

How does on call pay work?

How on-call pay works depends on several factors, including:

1. Local regulations:

  • Minimum wage and overtime: In many areas, on-call time counts as work time if the employee is restricted from personal activities or required to be near their workplace. They must be paid at least minimum wage for these hours, and potentially overtime if they exceed regular work hour limits.

  • Minimum on-call pay: Some regions mandate minimum pay rates for on-call periods, even if no work is performed.

2. Company policy:

  • Frequency of being on-call: Flat fees might be offered for rare on-call periods, while hourly rates are common for frequent on-call duties.
  • Responsibilities during on-call: Rates should reflect the workload. If actively performing work, pay should reflect that work.

3. Specific arrangements:

  • Standby vs. active response: Being "on standby" with limited restrictions might receive lower pay than being actively available to respond immediately.
  • Travel time and response: Some companies compensate for travel time to the workplace during on-call periods.

Here are some general pay structures:

  • Flat fee: Fixed amount per on-call shift, often used for infrequent on-call periods.
  • Hourly rate: Pay per hour spent on-call, regardless of work performed, common for frequent on-call.
  • Combination: Flat fee for being on-call plus hourly rate for actual work performed.

Useful Read: Understanding Shift Allowances: Enhancing UK's Labour Market

Key considerations for employers:

  • Clarity: Clearly communicate expectations, responsibilities, and compensation in writing, including contracts.
  • Fairness: Ensure pay reflects disruption and potential workload.
  • Transparency: Track and record on-call hours accurately.
  • Flexibility: Offer opt-out options or negotiate alternatives.

Remember: Legal requirements and best practices vary. Consult legal counsel and relevant authorities for specific regulations in your area.

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On call pay requirements

Beyond legal requirements, consider these best practices for fair and transparent on-call compensation:

  • Clear communication: Define on-call expectations, responsibilities, and compensation clearly in writing, including in employment contracts.
  • Fair compensation: Ensure the pay rate reflects the level of disruption and potential workload during on-call periods.
  • Transparency: Track and record on-call hours accurately to ensure proper compensation.
  • Flexibility: Consider offering options for employees to opt-out of on-call or negotiate alternative arrangements.

On call pay rates

Compensation for on-call work differs based on several factors:

  • Frequency of being on-call: If on-call periods are rare, a flat fee per shift might be appropriate. For frequent on-call duties, an hourly rate is common.

  • Responsibilities during on-call: If the employee is expected to actively perform work during on-call hours, the pay rate should reflect the work performed.

  • Local regulations: Some areas have laws requiring minimum on-call pay rates, even if no work is performed.

Is on-call duty working time?

Yes, On-call duty may be classified as working time under specific conditions according to current case law. It is especially true when an employee is limited in the amount of free time they have during their on-call time.

For example, if employees cannot take a break or leave their workstations, this would be working time. If the on-call duty prevents an employee from pursuing other activities or spending time with family and friends, it may also be classified as working time.

How does on-call duty count as working time?

The person only the time spent on-call for work is considered working time. The time an employee is on-call but not working is considered rest time.

For example, a house technician is on call from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. He gets the call-off on Saturday at 11 a.m. due to his workload. He rushes to the plant to find out what's wrong and repair it as soon as possible. In the context of the Working Hours Act, his work task is only two hours long, regarded as working hours in terms of the Working Hours Act. You will consider the rest of the standby time rest time.

Is driving time during on-call service working time?

Working time

Usually, the time spent driving during on-call duty does not fall under working time according to labour law. There are only exceptional cases in which you would include it. When employees report to their job site within a short time frame, they cannot choose where they work. It can lead to long commutes and little free time.

For example, an in-house technician on call at the company premises which has to drive a long distance to get there within the specified personal time limit cannot freely plan his working day. In this instance, the time spent driving is counted as working time. Employees relieved from work during their on-call shift should be allowed to take a break or do other activities.

Conclusion: on-call duty as working time

On-call duty can be a form of working time. It is the case if the on-call worker is required to work during their on-call period or if they are restricted in their freedom to use their time during on-call periods.

If on-call duty is working time, then the employer must ensure that the worker gets the minimum rest periods required by law and that they are paid for their on-call time.

If you have any questions about whether your on-call duty is working time or your rights and obligations as an on-call worker, you should speak to your employer or a lawyer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does on call mean for a job?

On-call work describes a situation where an employee is not actively working but is expected to be available to respond to urgent requests or situations outside of regular work hours. This typically involves being reachable by phone, email, or other communication channels and being prepared to return to work within a defined timeframe.

In which sectors are on-call duties every day?

The most common sectors for on-call duties are emergency services, such as the police, fire brigade, and ambulance service. Other sectors include event security, alarm systems, and technical maintenance.

How often is an employee allowed to be on call?

The Working Hours Act does not stipulate the maximum number of times an employee can be on-call. However, it does state that on-call duty must not jeopardize the employees' health.

The on-call time employees can work also depends on their sector and job. For example, there are restrictions on how often an employee can be on call in the medical field.

Can the employer request on-call service?

In practice, it is covered by a contract of employment or a work agreement. Companies often require employees to be on call for a certain number of hours per week or month. Employees must follow company rules to perform their duties effectively.

A repeated failure of this type will result in a warning; if no improvement is seen, the individual will be terminated. On-call work is covered by co-determination if a firm has a works council.

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Rinaily Bonifacio

Written by:

Rinaily Bonifacio

Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.


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