Can you get paid for waiting time?

It’s often clear that time an employee spends performing his assigned tasks is time for which he should be paid. But, what about on-call time? Is an employee entitled to be paid for the time he spends waiting and off the clock? Is on-call time “compensable time”?

Compensable time is time for which an employee is entitled to receive compensation. Still, the issue remains as to what work counts as compensable time. Courts define “work” under the Fair Labor Standards Act to mean “physical or mental exertion (whether burdensome or not) controlled or required by the employer and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer and his business.”

However, are employees entitled to compensation for time they are required to be on-call under this definition?

On-call or waiting time is time that an employee is “off the clock” but is required to be available to report for work if the employer needs him. A common example is a nurse or surgeon who, while outside his regular schedule, must be able to come in to the hospital and work when called.

Whether or not an employee is entitled to compensation for this time depends on whether he can use the time effectively for his own purposes. Factors include whether an employee can conduct daily routine activities, whether he can enjoy leisure time, and whether he can travel away from his place of work.

For example, an employee who is on-call but can use the time to go grocery shopping or run other errands is not entitled to compensation. Similarly, an employee who can use his on-call time to go to dinner with friends or see a movie and is not required to stay on the employer’s premises is not entitled to compensation.

On the other hand, an employee whose on-call time and travel ability is restricted by the employer is more likely entitled to compensation for that time. For example, an employee who is required to remain on the premises while on-call, who is not allowed to make personal phone calls, and who cannot use the time to run errands is entitled to compensation for this time.