DEAR CARRIE: I work as a part-time staff registered nurse for a hospital. My job is not unionized. I work two 12.5-hour shifts per week with a 1/2-hour unpaid lunch period. At one time we had a voluntary on-call system where you could sign up to be on call for a four- to 12-hour shift. But the voluntary system soon became mandatory because of a staff shortage. We are paid a flat rate to be on call and time and a half if we actually have to go in to work. I recently was told by my boss that I must be available 45 minutes to one hour before the start of my on-call shift to allow for travel time. In other words, if my call shift starts at 3 p.m., my employer can call me in at 2 p.m. so I am ready to report to work by 3 p.m. I was under the assumption that if my on-call shift started at 3 p.m., that was when the hospital could start calling me in and then I have 45 minutes from 3 p.m. to get to work. So my question is: If one is assigned an on-call shift at a certain time, is that the time the on-call shift starts, or does it start earlier to allow for travel time?
— On-Call, En Garde
DEAR ON-CALL: Actually, your on-call pay is generous. Many employers don’t pay employees for being on-call unless their movements are restricted or they have to perform some work. Here is what the U.S. Labor Department considers on-call work that should be paid:
“An employee who is required to remain on call on the employer’s premises is working while on call. An employee who is required to remain on call at home, or who is allowed to leave a message where he/she can be reached, is not working (in most cases) while on call. Additional constraints on the employee’s freedom could require this time to be compensated.”
It’s worth mentioning that registered nurses generally wouldn’t have to be paid for any extra hours of work because they fall into the professional category of workers. If your employer pays its exempt nurses for on-call work, it can decide how the pay will work. But if you are treated as an hourly employee, then while on call, you have to be paid for the time you are required to remain on premises or for the time you performed any work.
DEAR CARRIE: I work part time as an industrial inspector on Long Island. I work five days a week from 6:30 to noon, which is 5.5 hours a day, with no lunch break, so my normal week totals 27.5 hours. On two days during the last pay period I began work 30 minutes early, at 6 a.m.; so on those days I worked six hours. But payroll deducted a 30-minute lunch period each day even though I left as usual without taking a lunch break. So I ended up working 28.5 hours but got paid for just 27.5. When I pointed out that the law says I must be paid for all the hours I work, payroll responded that it would be against the law for me not to take a lunch break and said I was just out of luck. What recourse do I have? — Lunchtime Heartburn
DEAR LUNCHTIME: Since you are an hourly employee, you have to be paid for all the hours you work, and that includes when you work through lunch. If the company deducts time for a lunch break, the onus is on it to make sure employees are not working during that time.
For more information call the state Labor Department at 516-794-8195 or U.S. Labor Department at 516-338-1890.