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I work in the IT dept at a small company that develops and hosts web-based software. As part of my job, I am on call 24/7. The IT department consists of myself and one other person. The other person is hourly, so the company doesn't ask this person to join in an on-call rotation because the company has a policy of not allowing any overtime.

The problem I have run into is that within the past year, the company has taken on a lot of new business, and this has included clients located in different timezones. The company promises clients a SLA of 99.9% uptime. Due to some major code quality issues, we have had an increasing number of system crashes as well as issues needing to be addressed for clients in different timezones. Recently, we had several outages that occurred while I was commuting to work. We also had ~5 client outages occur simultaneously, and even among myself and my coworker, we were unable to address all at the same time.

In every instance where something has happened, I have been berated for not handling the issue quicker. Regarding my on call availability, management has questioned why I wasn't immediately available even though I was on call. I have reiterated to management that even though I am on call, I still have to commute to work and take care of personal needs. I basically told them that if they were are not willing to pay anyone else to be on call, then it's not my problem if something happens while I am doing something like commuting to work.

Despite having addressed the issue directly with management, I have not been able to get through to them. I also feel like I am running into an ethical issue in the sense that the company is currently incapable of delivering what it is promising to clients. Is there something I can do differently to address this issue?

  • When I have confronted management with my concerns, they haven't given much of a response. One manager did say that the company policy of not allowing people to work overtime was stupid, but it's clear that he has no interest in escalating that concern. – it-guy Dec 18 '18 at 0:14
  • @it-guy If they are not allowing overtime, how many hours are you working a week? Do you get paid for your 24/7 availability? – gnasher729 Dec 18 '18 at 0:45
  • I am exempt, but my coworker is hourly, so it means I have to handle anything that comes up after hours. – it-guy Dec 18 '18 at 0:49
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    Find a new job. The stress of this will be really bad for your health. – David Dec 18 '18 at 19:22
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    Get a new job. If you promise 99.9% uptime to your clients, you need to scale the support resources. The company is cheap. The 24/7 on call with only one person is outrageous itself. – Simon Dec 19 '18 at 18:07
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Despite having addressed the issue directly with management, I have not been able to get through to them. I also feel like I am running into an ethical issue in the sense that the company is currently incapable of delivering what it is promising to clients. Is there something I can do differently to address this issue?

If you have already expressed everything you have written here to your management, and they still haven't responded as hoped, it's time to update your resume and start looking for your next job.

It seems obvious that one person cannot be expected to fulfill a 24x7 on-call role. If it isn't obvious to your management, then perhaps there is no hope.

Any ethical issues are not yours. You are not the one promising unrealistic uptime SLAs while simultaneously under-funding the support role.

12

A company cannot demand that you to be on call 24/7. It's immoral, and depending on where you work, probably illegal. In industrialized countries they are required to give you a day off, i.e. a day where you cannot be made to work. (Obviously the US is the exception to this).

I recommend sending the following to the company:

Dear Company

As you know I have been providing support on a frequent basis. While I am happy to continue to support where necessary, I have to inform you that I am unable to be available 24/7. Possible reasons for unavailability include: family commitments; vacation; being outside cell coverage; being in places where cellphone usage is prohibited.

If you wish me to be able to guarantee support for specific periods I am willing to negotiate my times of availability. Unless and until that is agreed I cannot guarantee my availability at any specific time (outside of actual working hours).

If this gets you no response you might tell management that you are intending to be out of town for a few days, where you will have neither internet nor cell phone access. As such you will be unavailable to be on call. Don't make suggestions for what they do - let them sort it out for themselves. You have stated your position, and they should be ready for the occasion when you do not respond to a service call. There is also a lot to be said for deliberately not answering a service call on some occasion when you have a reasonable excuse.

You might also considering asking them what they want you to do if you get a call when you are at a party? How many drinks are they happy with you having had while answering a call? Are they going to insist that you never have a drink at any time?

What are they going to do if you are on a road trip, driving for several hours? Or if you are simply outside cell coverage?

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    It's immoral, and depending on where you work, probably illegal. - Citation here would greatly help this answer. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 18 '18 at 16:46
  • Advanced, democratic countries at least require workers to be given a day off unless they consent otherwise. – DJClayworth Dec 18 '18 at 16:50
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    Being on call is not the same as working 24/7, at least at most places. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 18 '18 at 17:21
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    If you are on call you are not having a day off. – DJClayworth Dec 18 '18 at 17:22
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    Again if this is illegal then a reference backing that up would greatly improve your answer. Hope this helps – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 18 '18 at 18:13
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I would ask what specific compensation you are receiving for being "on call."

If you are receiving none, I would simply turn off the phone and explain to them that labor is not free.

It might cost you your job, but if you aren't being paid for the work you're doing, it's hardly a "loss."

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    OP is being paid for doing a regular job, and is also required to put in unpaid unpredictable overtime. OP has an income stream. Remove the job, on the basis that a significant part is unpaid, and the paid part goes away also. If OP does this, at least in the US, OP is likely not to have an income stream anymore. – David Thornley Dec 18 '18 at 22:31
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I have not been able to get through to them.

Maybe management only knows about when issues do occur such as when you are driving to work. However, maybe they don't know about the 50 issues you fixed before. If I was doing this, I'd log each one as a ticket cc'ing everyone.

If at that point management cannot understand, then I'd simply do what others said here and find a new job. You are working to live, not living to work.

2

Your department and/or company is severely understaffed: their current staffing leaves no room if you take a vacation, get sick, or have any sort of issue; and will result in having you burn out and leave sooner rather than later.

According to Google (from their SRE book), where they expect a system engineer to spend 50% of their time on projects, 25% of them time on operational/non-project work, and 25% of their time "on call"/firefighting:

Assuming that there are always two people on-call (primary and secondary, with different duties), the minimum number of engineers needed for on-call duty from a single-site team is eight: assuming week-long shifts, each engineer is on-call (primary or secondary) for one week every month.

You should go to your management, and express how understaffed they are. You should present that information from Google, as well as whatever else supporting information you can find. And see their reaction.

If this is a small company, and this growth happened rapidly, they might be unaware of how much staff they require, and will hopefully listen to you and start to immediately work on building out the team. If they ignore you, or if they think they can take on "a lot of new business" without scaling out the team (and, consequently, putting more and more work and stress on you), I really think the only option left for you is to start looking for another job.

-2

1) As others have said, start looking for a new job right now. Stop reading this, go to whatever local job search provider you like, and submit some applications, then come back and read the rest.

2) Insist on working from home permanently effective immediately without exception. If management expects you to be on call 24/7, then management should expect that concerns such as commuting may interfere with that sort of schedule. Explain to management that if they want 24/7 on-call support, then you will have to work from home or you cannot guarantee that level of support. Put this request in writing so that you have hard evidence of it later (for a performance review or possible lawsuit).

3) Regarding the legality/morality of 24/7 on-call, you should probably consult a legal professional to determine whether your current 24/7 on-call situation is legal. My inclination is that it might be legally questionable for a single person to endure 24/7 oncall. However IANAL, and you should totally look into legal recompense for your troubles if such things can be afforded to you.

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    You're spot on with #1, but that's about it. #2 doesn't fix anything at all, and it's counterproductive to suggest to management that it would. #3 grossly misunderstands how compensation for on-call hours works in many places. – Nuclear Wang Dec 19 '18 at 19:57
  • Regarding #2, I assume (as stated in the question) that OP has already brought to the attention of management that his position is untenable and management has basically given him the finger. Given that as the first step, the next step is to get, in writing (that's important), acknowledgment from management either that a) OP needs to be in the office (and therefore OP can't be on call 24/7 because he needs to commute), or b) OP gets to work from home. Most software people (in my experience) seem to agree that wfh is more comfortable than office work, so that's a minor win for OP... – Ertai87 Dec 19 '18 at 20:28
  • ...Wfh also affords OP the opportunity to continue his job search on company time without company scrutiny, which allows him additional leeway concerning things like scheduling phone screens and so on. As for point 3, most of the details of that depends on OP's contract and the laws of OP's locale. The bottom line is that OP should look into legal advice concerning if 24/7 on-call is even legal. I perhaps went a little overboard in my explanation. I'll edit it down to something a bit less egregious. – Ertai87 Dec 19 '18 at 20:31
  • not everyone finds working from home - especially exclusively - preferable to working in the office. For some that isn't even an option. So it's quite an assumption that this is a win for OP. The general liking of working from home aside, that also would mean from there on management would have even a stronger inclination to be angry about any delay in an on-call response, should OP, I don't know, just be sitting on the loo. In addition, fire-fighting from home where your communication options with colleagues are limited is also often less efficient than from the office -> more stress for OP. – Frank Hopkins Dec 20 '18 at 17:38
  • It's something else if you meant "OP should have the option to troubleshoot from home, if he so wishes / it fits the problem" – Frank Hopkins Dec 20 '18 at 17:42

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