Traditionally people think of ‘on call’ as mainly relating to medical professions, emergency services or similar, but working culture is becoming more and more 24-7, and we are seeing more of our business services clients being asked to provide round-the-clock coverage to their own clients, and looking at instituting on call systems for their staff in order to be able to accommodate that.
If you are considering implementing an on call arrangement in your business, perhaps to expand the services you can offer, there are some things you need to consider.
Working hours or not?
You need to establish whether the time spent on call will “count” as working hours for the purposes of the Working Time Directive, in terms of rest breaks, daily rest and a maximum working week. Where the employee is obliged to be present and available at the workplace then this will count as working hours, even if they are allowed to rest or sleep while they are on call. If they are allowed to be away from the workplace and doing other things, then only time spent actually working will count. You should also be aware that if they are in work-provided living accommodation, this is also likely to be considered the workplace for these purposes.
Similarly, you need to work out under what circumstances time spent on call will need to be paid at at least the applicable National Minimum Wage rate. The answer to this is that it depends on the nature of the work involved. If the person has to be awake for the purposes of work, that is likely to count. In some roles, the actual requirement of the job is simply to be present, not necessarily to actually do anything – an example being care work where someone needs to be on the premises overnight but may not be required to perform any tasks. In those cases time spent is also likely to come under National Minimum Wage requirements.
You will need to think about how staff will be remunerated for on call arrangements. You could consider a stand-by allowance, whereby they receive a certain amount of pay whether they get called to work or not. You could consider on call payments, meaning they will get rewarded for time actually spent, or you could have a combination of the two. Which arrangement is most appropriate may depend on a number of factors, including how often staff are likely to be called out, whether they are likely to be called out at all, whether call out involves answering a phone call from wherever they happen to be or visiting a client site and what other restrictions are placed on them. It will be important to consult well with affected staff and understand what remuneration system they consider fair, especially if you want them to voluntarily sign up to an on call arrangement. Above all, clarity about remuneration arrangements is key.
There are a number of other factors you need consider and be clear on with staff. Exactly what restrictions will you place on them in terms of availability, response times, permissible activities and acceptable distance from work during on call time? If they spend time working during on call, will they come into work the next day, will they get time off in lieu of called-out time, and how will working hours be measured and recorded in order to ensure appropriate rest breaks and working hour limits are maintained.
If the on call arrangement is new, it is important to set a date for reviewing it with staff. Call outs may happen more frequently than you predicted, or be more problematic, and other issues or challenges you have not consider may present themselves. Talk to staff about how things are working and whether any adjustments are needed.
If you would like assistance in implementing on call arrangements in your team, do get in touch.