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I work in IT and was recently promoted to a higher position. While I was okay with the responsibilities outlined when I accepted the promotion last week, today I learned that it comes with 24/7/365 on-call to monitor mission-critical systems. The first time I fail to fix it within 20 minutes, I will be fired. There is no rotation or anyone else looking out.

What the hell do I do now?

I feel like I just got bait-and-switched and I want to go back to my old position. Frankly, I have half a mind to leave. I feel like I'm expected to give my life to a company that doesn't treat its employees well. Am I being unreasonable? Is this just a fact of life for a career in IT?


I am in Colorado, USA.

I found out about the on-call situation today when my boss flippantly mentioned it in a conference call with several other managers, specifically saying, "We don't need to worry about the website; we have X on 24/7 on-call now." I think failing to do so will result in firing because that's what happened to my predecessor. I have VPN access via laptop, which is how I am expected to sign in and handle it at any time.

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    It sounds like the „fired if fail to fix it in 20 minutes“ is paraphrasing something which was not communicated this way. That’s unfortunate since a lot of the answers jumped on it. I would recommend you to clarify the expectations, you clearly expected the worst. – eckes May 14 at 12:08
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    What's in your contract? – J... May 14 at 12:12
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    "my boss flippantly mentioned it in a conference call" - are you sure he was being serious? – Laconic Droid May 14 at 12:35
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    This is really important. Don't assume that something your boss said flippantly in a conference call is actually literally true. Go and talk to your boss about what his actual expectations are. Do this before you get upset or do anything drastic. This is really important. – DJClayworth May 14 at 14:13
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    Are you sure about the fix in 20 mins thing? Usually, in a service level agreement, the response time limit is not to fix it - it's to acknowledge the alarm and start working on it. I'm also not sure they sacked the previous guy for not fixing it in 20 mins - if they did that, they'd have had a still broken system and no guy to fix it! – Oscar Bravo May 16 at 14:56

17 Answers 17

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"today I learned it comes with 24/7/365 on-call to monitor mission critical systems. The first time I fail to fix it within 20 minutes, I will be fired"

Then you have really nothing to lose. That's an absolutely ridiculous and outlandish requirement. No sleep, no vacation, no beer after work, no private life?

Go back to your supervisor and tell them this is an unreasonable expectation and that you won't do this. Offer an alternative suggestion that you are comfortable with (if that exists). If they don't accept, offer to go back to your previous job. If you get fired, so be it, that was inevitable anyway.

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    If nothing else worked, I recommend secretly start looking for another job and resign soon, instead of waiting to get fired. Getting fired if not good for you. Even if you don't get fired, stress of job alone will ruin you – VarunAgw May 14 at 5:32
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    And if it is not clearly written in your job description and it makes you fired, you can probably sue them appropriately. – dim May 14 at 5:45
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    @dim The employer will just let the OP go instead of firing them for cause. – Dmitry Grigoryev May 14 at 7:12
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    @trangunarpix - Colorado is indeed has "at-will" employement. This means either party can leave without notice you might be able to use that to your advantage. – Donald May 14 at 14:53
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    @dim No. Being fired without cause is not an actionable offense unless you're in a union or have an employment contract. At best you are eligible for unemployment. – Adonalsium May 14 at 17:28
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What the hell do I do now? I feel like I just got bait and switched and I want to go back to my old position.

If that's the case, you should ask for a one-on-one meeting with your manager and express your feelings about going back to your old position. Make sure you first confirm that the flippant remarks you overheard were a real change and not just odd remarks without real meaning. You don't want to make a decision based on something that isn't actually required.

Don't delay. You do not want to wait until after they fill your old position.

If you got a raise with your promotion, be ready to give it back.

Frankly I have half a mind to leave. I feel like I'm expected to give my life to a company that doesn't treat its employees well. Am I being unreasonable?

It's up to you to decide whether you wish to leave or not.

Don't do it because you feel "wronged" though. Base it on the totality of the situation. Decide if going back to your old position would work for you in the long run, or if this is the time to decide to move on to a different company.

Is this just a fact of life for a career in IT?

No.

While being on call is pretty common, not having any rotation such that you are on call 24/7/365 is not. Getting no compensation for being on call is not. Only learning about the requirement to be on call after accepting the position is not. And facing being fired if you don't fix the issue within 20 minutes is not.

You should be able to find plenty of other IT jobs that don't require this ridiculous level of on-call commitment.

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    Being placed on call without knowing beforehand is also not very common. Generally this is spelled out in your contract or discussed before accepting a promotion. – Erik May 14 at 5:16
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    While OP is not in Europe, there are rules for on-call. Usually you get paid 25 - 50 % of your regular calculated hourly salary during on-call hours. And if you get a call, then standard overtime rules apply, eg. Sunday hours are 200 % salary on top of normal hourly salary. 365 on-call however is totally unheard of and probably illegal. – Juha Untinen May 14 at 6:06
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    24/7/365 on-call for one person is ridiculous. I work on a team that supports a critical public facing web site that generally must always be up or people's lives are affected. I should have bolded team. There is someone on-call 24x7x365, but we rotate through on-call status so we can have a life outside of work instead of burning out in three months. – Todd Wilcox May 14 at 6:22
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    I've volunteered for on call duty before, namely because the time you don't get called in is paid at 50% and the time you do is at 200% for my purposes. No extra compensation for on call would be the hardest of passes for me. – Magisch May 14 at 7:39
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    "Base it on the totality of the situation. Decide if going back to your old position would work for you in the long run, or if this is the time to decide to move on to a different company." It's also worth considering that management may not be happy with the OP going back to their old position even if they allow it, which could endanger their long term prospects with the company as well. – jpmc26 May 14 at 16:40
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This is one of those times when Gordon England's classic question would have been really useful.

When they sprang the 24/7/365/"20 minutes"/"no backup personnel" story on you, you could have had a lot of fun by sitting silent for about five seconds, then asking "What will you do if I'm in the hospital?", and then SHUTTING UP.

As it stands, I recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that you polish your resume' (CV in some places) and find another job, ASAP. I would not recommend trying to go back to your previous position with this employer: they've just told you everything you need to know about them. (I.e.: If they'd pull this stunt once, they'll pull it again. Or something worse.)

  • I thought that was a Jack Welch anecdote? – AakashM May 14 at 8:08
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    @AakashM: I heard it from a coworker at General Dynamics Fort Worth when I was there. Gordon was Director of Avionics at the time. It is the kind of thing he'd say and do. – John R. Strohm May 14 at 14:01
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Short version : time to move on.

The first time I fail to fix it within 20 minutes, I will be fired.

The sort of condition written by a megalomaniac with no technical knowledge at all. Problem solving simply does not work this way.

Your second sign you are working for an insane organization and, again, time to start looking for a new job. It can only get worse at this organization after this.

There is no rotation or anyone else looking out.

Which is insanity.

Mission critical 24/7/365 systems cannot be managed or monitored by one person without rotation or backup. It is impossible.

For me this is the absolute clincher that this organization is run by con artists, chancers and/or idiots.

Get out ASAP.

At best this was a sign that the lunatics have taken over the asylum, or worst it's a sign that they're running out of money (!) and, from experience, the next things to happen will be people not being replaced, endless non-optional overtime, maybe even wages not being paid on time.

I cannot tell you how many alarm bells this rings for me.

Run to the exit as soon as you find somewhere sane sounding. Don't walk - make this your priority.

I work in IT and was recently promoted to a higher position. While I was okay with the responsibilities outlined when I accepted the promotion last week,

Accepted in writing by signing a contract ? If that's what you did then they can (*legally) only apply the terms in the contract at that time almost everywhere ( note : IANAL ).

today I learned it comes with 24/7/365 on-call to monitor mission critical systems.

Being on-call should have been discussed and agreed (!) before taking the promotion or even being offered the position.

Being on-call is not unreasonable is itself for a senior position, but being on call should not be a "surprise extra" never discussed and agreed to.

This is the first sign that this company is a disaster zone for your personal sanity. I would already be looking for a new job elsewhere.

What the hell do I do now ?

Polish your CV and get a new job ASAP.

The longer you stay the more stressful this madness will become. It's time to move on.

The demands are so extremely unreasonable that talking to them is a waste of time (IMO). They'll most likely try to jolly you along and then you'll start getting the calls at all hours and that's a problem.

I feel like I just got bait and switched and I want to go back to my old position. Frankly I have half a mind to leave.

Forget the old position - it's the same company and I suspect even if you try and stay at your old position, they will try and pressure you to take on the work anyway ( "just temporarily" ).

Staying is not an option, IMO.

I feel like I'm expected to give my life to a company that doesn't treat its employees well. Am I being unreasonable?

You are being reasonable.

Is this just a fact of life for a career in IT?

Not everywhere.

Yes, you can be on-call in senior roles (and even junior roles) and you may get the call in the middle of the night. If employers can get you to go along with that (unpaid) they will. You have to be strict with them or some managers will exploit your willingness to help out in emergencies.

It's normally done like this :

  • You help out on one emergency.
  • The next time you say "no", they will say "but we were counting on you. You did it before !".

Some people fall for this, some don't. If you're not explicitly on call (and getting remuneration to justify that) then you say, sorry, I'm doing personal stuff and you can't expect me to be available just anytime.

24/7 operations need a 24/7 shift roster. It's that simple. Anyone operating 24/7 as if it was 9-5 is a cowboy outfit.

Mission critical means a company should pay for enough staff to reasonably cover it.

Note there is a difference between the odd call e.g. once a month on the basis of "fix as soon as you can" and what these madmen are expecting. We've all had the three straight days living on coffee and pizza thing - it should be a rare exception. These conditions you have been given are beyond any rational or reasonable expectation - a long way beyond.

Companies not doing this are places you leave ASAP. It either means managers will cut any corner and don't care about staff and/or that they are financially in trouble. In any case you leave as soon as you have a new job and you make that happen as soon as practical.

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    Even for positions which are "always on call" I've always heard conventional wisdom is you need 4-5 people to actually guarantee that at any time someone will be reachable. I find this ludicrous. If someone caught me in the shower it'd be a good 10 minutes before I could even get to a PC, let alone diagnose and fix the issue. – Magisch May 14 at 7:27
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    @Magisch: The "5 person per position" rule is generally used for 24/7 operations (permanently staffed). On-call duty is generally less onerous, so 3 might be workable (especially if the on-call duty does not require a physical presence). – MSalters May 14 at 8:04
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    Shower, commute, bad signal, emergency, whatever. "Fix in 20 minutes" is unrealistic for any one single person. – Piskvor May 14 at 8:40
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    @Piskvor It's ludicrous to assume that any problem that comes up can even actually be fixed in 20 minutes, assuming you drop what you are doing the second your phone rings and get right on the problem! – Michael J. May 16 at 19:28
  • @Michael And that. (Last time I had an on-call clause, it was "get to it in 15 minutes," without a mandated resolution time - with a rotating staff of ~20 people, at least 3 being on-call at any given time) – Piskvor May 16 at 19:34
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Second answer that addresses the information you have added to the question since I last answered, as my answer now is very different.

I found out today when my boss flippantly mentioned it in a conference call with several other managers. Specifically saying "We don't need to worry about the website, we have X on 24/7 on-call now."

Managers often lie to each other all the time. Especially with things like this. Often managers are looking to placate stakeholders by making bold claims about support.

I have seen on-call be managed very poorly in some places I've worked where different managers will have vastly different understandings about the responsibilities are of different employees. It's important you have a good understanding from actual documentation that's directed at you.

If you get challenged by other managers, this is what you use. Direct (and documented) instruction from your manager overrides any casual conversations you may overhear with your manager. If you think what he is saying is inconsistent with his directions, you should raise it with him.

I think failing to do so will result in firing because that's what got my predecessor.

Unless you know the full story, you shouldn't assume that it was because they failed to fix an issue in 20 minutes. It's often the case that they didn't respond to on-call, several times. Failing to pick up the phone and start looking at an issue is vastly different from not being able to solve it.

In addition, often stakeholders are content that somebody is looking into their issue, not necessarily that it gets fixed in a minimal timeframe.

I do want to generally say that on-call is often an after-thought. Sometimes there is an assumption that people in certain roles will do it. Even if you agree to a certain level of on-call, it must be very clear what is expected of you.

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    This. It seems OP is operating (partly) on things they overheard. – sleske May 14 at 7:34
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    If the manager is so unreasonable as to assign a 24/7/365 rapid response to a single individual, I do not see why it would somehow be more unreasonable to fire someone for not having fixed it within 20 min. The former is rare (I have been that 24/7/365 person, but always as an answer if able, with no expectation of ensuring I am always available), the latter I have encountered several times as non-tech managers often think it is just a matter of hitting a button, so them telling me something is wrong should fix it immediately, thus any delay is sabotage or incompetence. – pluckedkiwi May 14 at 13:00
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    @pluckedkiwi Maybe so, but before the OP quits they should really find out from the manager what their actual expectations are. I think the OP has potentially extrapolated far beyond what they should have, and now we are aware of this, a lot of answers, including my previous one, no longer seem to be valid. – Gregory Currie May 14 at 13:11
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tl;dr They're either setting you up to be fired, they're malicious, or they're beyond clueless. That's not a company I'd want to work for.

While I was okay with the responsibilities outlined when I accepted the promotion last week, today I learned it comes with 24/7/365 on-call to monitor mission critical systems

Was this in the job description in the contract that you signed? If not, then tell them that this is an unreasonable requirement, and you have no record of this being highlighted to you in advance through the job description or otherwise.

If it is, then you can still have a conversation with your manager, but be prepared for the "it was in the job description" argument. If this is the case, you're much more likely to have to work with him to find an alternative arrangement that suits the company.

In either case though, I'd start looking for new work. This was clearly not spelled out to you in advance as it should have been, and it sounds like they're trying to cheat you into the role. A company with no rotation on 24/7/365 mission critical callout is quite frankly insane (what if you're ill? On holiday? In hospital? On a drive that lasts more than 20 minutes? In an area with bad reception?), and from your experience clearly they don't value their employees.

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    In many countries this would be illegal. In Germany, the term might be "sittenwidrig". No idea about the US, but I suspect in Europe this is a no-go. – Captain Emacs May 14 at 1:02
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    There is generally no requirement for an employee to have a written job description or even an employment contract in the United States. In fact, most employment does not occur under a written contract. Even when there is a job description, it will include something like "and other duties as assigned". – user71659 May 14 at 5:14
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    @CaptainEmacs: I can confirm it's illegal in the EU. The 20 minute response time means it counts as work time, which means this is a 168 hour workweek. That's pretty obvious illegal. In some countries, this might be pushing it to the level of criminally illegal. – MSalters May 14 at 7:30
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    @Graham You missed the point that in the US, the location of the OP, there is no contract in most employment. Assuming it's a "professional," salaried position, then there is no requirement for work hours either. What the OP can do is quit at any time. This is the fundamental difference in employment philosophy between the EU and the US, making it much easier for US companies to hire somebody. – user71659 May 14 at 15:44
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    @user71659 why is it that any time any aspect of employment in the US is explained to me, I'm left sadder for it? Mistreating employees shouldn't be legal but alas. – VLAZ May 15 at 4:40
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Given the edit indicating that your concern is a conclusion from a overheard conversation, not a directive you have received, you need clarification.

You can ask your manager what out-of-hours web site support they expect. If they want 7/24 support, recommend doing cross-training to create a rotation of people who can handle it. Suggest extra pay as an incentive for those who learn how to do it and take a share of the on call time.

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In other countries, your stories would be a field day for any lawyer specialized in employment law. There are so many red flags, it feels like a school exam for future lawyers.

Where I live, while the whole contract would be illegal from the start because 24/7 on call would be illegal from the get go, 20 minutes is not a reasonable reaction time and firing on the first offense is illegal too, springing it on you without you having signed a written addendum to your working contract that puts it in writing for both of you will make it null and void anyway. This would be a question of how many laws invalidate this clause, not whether it's illegal or not.

But you are in the United States, working in an at-will state as far as I know. So you have a lot of freedom to do what you want and when you want and your employer has a lot of freedom to be a complete jerk too. Turns out they exercise their freedom to the fullest extend of what's possible.

Go find a new job immediately. They have proven to be untrustworthy.

Until then, be constructive. Ask for a list of things that you need to do your job. Is there a failover cluster? Because you cannot replace a broken harddisk of the webserver in 20 minutes, even if you had a magic wand to teleport you to the server room. Is there a second, independent landline into your server room? Because if a construction worker damages the one cable, there is no way that network connectivity to the rest of the world is back in twenty minutes. Chances are this is not in place and there is a slim chance they will wake up to their stupidity. But don't count on it.

On a sidenote: freedom always means the freedom to be a stupid jerk, too. If you value that freedom, you will have to weather the occasional jerk like this. If you'd rather not have encounters like this, you guys are a democracy, so you are free to vote for somebody promising stronger employment laws. This might be a long term solution, but it would protect you from being in the same situation 20 years down the road.

  • Worth pointing out the author could leave without notice. They can also be let go without notice. They have a great deal of power being that single person who can respond 24/7/365. I would agree, the author, needs to find a new position and get away from the company that was described. – Donald May 14 at 15:05
  • " Because you cannot replace a broken harddisk of the webserver in 20 minutes" - Oh, please! Do you think real computer centers don't run redundant systems? A single "broken hard disk" shouldn't make any difference at all, except maybe a small drop in performance. And with hot-swappable parts, you can physically replace the "broken disk" in a lot less than 20 minutes without shutting the system down in any case. – alephzero May 14 at 19:44
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    @alephzero Does a company that employs a single on call like this sound like a „real computer center“ to you? – nvoigt May 14 at 21:06
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You say (emphasis mine)

While I was okay with the responsibilities outlined when I accepted the promotion last week, today I learned it comes with 24/7/365 on-call to monitor mission critical systems.

Question: So was it a miss from your side or a new addition to the list of responsibilities which was already signed?

Hint: If you don't know for sure, now is the time to find out. You MUST NOT rely on some verbal communication you overheard. You need to have the set of roles and expected responsibilities documented so that both you and the organization can be sure what are the actions expected from you for a given scenario.

Check your contract again.

  • If it was a miss from your side, you cannot blame the organization. While I agree that the conditions are ridiculous and practically impossible and nonsensical (no rotation, failing to fix within 20 minutes will cause termination etc..), if it was put on paper and you missed that - it's fault from your side.

    The best you can hope for is to have a talk with your boss / manager ASAP and inform them that you cannot accept the conditions.

    • Best case, you'll be pushed back to your old designation and post.
    • Worst case, the'll ask you to leave / resign.
  • If it's a new addition all out of blue, then you have no obligation to take this up.

    Request a meeting with your supervisor and inform you cannot take up this additional responsibility as-it-is because

    1. It was not part of the original deal.
    2. It's practically impossible for anyone to be available 24*7*365. They need to eat / sleep / live / have a life and/or could be sick / hospitalized / in emergency situation.

    You can offer them an alternate solution (if you're willing to do that), like having a rotation system and a standby-backup roster so no one person have to be on-call for 24*7*365.

    If they push it to be part of the deal anyways - you should understand this is a hint that they don't want you to be part of the organization anymore.

Polish your CV and move on. Either way, you won't be having a good working relationship going forward.

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The first time a mission critical system fails, spend 20 minutes trying to fix it and then tell them that as they are going to fire you anyway, you quit, effective immediately. See how long it then takes them to rescind that condition...

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    And of course, you should be looking for a replacement job already! – thursdaysgeek May 13 at 23:10
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    Quitting without notice during an outage, putting your employer at a disadvantage where they need you, can leave you open to getting sued. Just because they say they will fire you, doesn't mean you don't have to comply with your employment contract. Sure, you may feel like a badass for a day or two, but you could be looking at ramifications down the track. – Gregory Currie May 14 at 3:34
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    @GregoryCurrie: You're not resigning. You are acknowledging the end of your employment contract, which happens at 20 minutes into an unresolved problem. And those are not terms you wrote, so they can't be held against you. – MSalters May 14 at 8:09
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    @GregoryCurrie If it's at-will employment in the U.S., either party can decide the relationship is over for any time for any reason. Contracted, full-time employment isn't uncommon here, but it's not the norm. – Blrfl May 14 at 8:46
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    Of course after 20 minutes OP should make sure whether or not he is still employed - all kinds of computer hacking laws could make it criminal to continue working on their computer system without authorisation after being fired. So after 20 minutes, get on the phone, call your manager, and ask if you are still employed. If it takes an hour to get them in the phone ( say in the middle of the night), so be it. – gnasher729 May 14 at 10:22
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For the record, I am from Australia, but hopefully things are similar to where you are from. (Rather than prefix everything with "where I am from", I'm just going to state this up the top).

There are a few things I want to mention.

I am going to assume you are acting as an employee, NOT as a contractor, which would afford you significantly less rights, though in such a situation, the contract needs to be incredibly well worded.

I work in IT and was recently promoted to a higher position. While I was okay with the responsibilities outlined when I accepted the promotion last week

First of all, I would imagine that this new responsibility should have been outlined in your amended contract. You imply this was not the case.

today I learned it comes with 24/7/365 on-call to monitor mission critical systems. The first time I fail to fix it within 20 minutes, I will be fired. There is no rotation or anyone else looking out.

Ok, a few things there.

There is nothing terribly unreasonable about 24/7/365 on-call (with maybe the exception that there is no possibility for a holiday), but coupled with what is an incredibly demanding 20 minute Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR), this pushes the employment conditions into the extremely adverse territory. Note that even if it was on-call for 3 hours, 20 minutes is very restrictive.

Broadly speaking, there is no hard and fast rule, but if you are not able to enjoy your life while being on-call, you should not be on-call, but rather on-the-clock.

This would mean that you are effictivly working a single shift a year, for the whole year, with no breaks, at what is (probably) below the minimum wage. Employment law frowns down upon this.

In addition, again assuming you are not a contractor, they cannot fire you for poor performance, at least for the first instance of poor performance. So, at the very worst, they can issue you a written warning for failing to meet the 20 minute target. Then they would be obliged to form a performance improvement plan for you to follow that includes training, and possibly simulations during work hours that would allow you to practise dealing with incidents.

They would only be able to fire you on the spot for misconduct. Not being able to fix an issue is a performance issue, which is different.

What the hell do I do now? I feel like I just got bait and switched and I want to go back to my old position. Frankly I have half a mind to leave. I feel like I'm expected to give my life to a company that doesn't treat its employees well. Am I being unreasonable? Is this just a fact of life for a career in IT?

First off, ensure you get everything you can in writing. If they have an on-call policy, get a copy of that.

You then need to determine what you are inclined to support and for what price. Are you able to do any on-call? What would work for you? How much additional money makes this worthwhile for you. Do not sign any contracts that makes you liable for not being able to resolve an issue, it may be outside you control.

Then you go back to them, say everything you've told us. Outline what you consider the options to be.

Though, you should really be looking for another job.

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    20 minutes isn't mean time, it's max time!! Even more insane; fixing an easy problem quickly when you're already awake doesn't build up any "credit" for hard problems that occur when you're asleep. – Peter Cordes May 14 at 3:18
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    @PeterCordes Even worse! I would struggle to meet a 20 minute at the best of times. – Gregory Currie May 14 at 3:36
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    A lot of answers mention contracts. I've worked in IT for 22 years and had an actual employment contract for only a small fraction of that time. – Todd Wilcox May 14 at 6:25
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    "There is nothing terribly unreasonable about 24/7/365 on-call " - sorry, but I have never heard of something like this, so it does seem unreasonable. It means you never can fully decide what you do with your time. – sleske May 14 at 7:31
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    "they cannot fire you for poor performance." - In Colorado the employer can fire the author without a notice period, if they sneeze on the equipment. Likewise, if the environment causes the author to sneeeze on the equipment, they can leave without notice – Donald May 14 at 15:07
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You just got promoted, show that you can do the job to your NEXT employer, try and tough it out for 2-3 months, fixing the root cause of any issues that come up should be your approach. And then... put in your two weeks, don't quit, and get a higher paying more reasonable job in one of the hottest IT markets in the USA, enjoy.

  • I'm sorry but this is terrible advice for at least two reasons. Firstly, 2 to 3 months is rather a long time to be available 24x7. Secondly, if the "20 mins to fix or you're fired" thing is literally what was said and what was meant then the OP is a roll of the dice away from being fired because you can't guarantee a fix in that time for almost anything. – Rob Moir May 16 at 20:34
  • Not to mention you are telling a future employer that you are willing to work 24/7/365. – Jane S May 17 at 3:38
  • @Rob perhaps you missed the benefit of applying for the higher position after showing you can hold onto it, OP has to weigh the on call vs this benefit. It's pretty easy to omit details of things you don't want to do to your future employer also. – RandomUs1r May 20 at 15:03
  • I’m not missing it @RandomUs1r , just disagreeing that gambling on showing people you will do ludicrous on call Rita’s that you don’t want to do has much of an upside. – Rob Moir May 20 at 15:09
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With wild guesses, I'll "translate" some messages to put you into what I think is the right mindset to handle this situation:

"We don't need to worry about the website, we have X on 24/7 on-call now."

This actually means:

I know I'm about to get fired for not managing availability of the website appropriately, but trust that I'm doing something!

Also:

The first time you fail to fix it within 20 minutes, you will be fired!

Means:

I've straight up lied to upper management that any downtime would be no longer than 20 minutes, now help me comply with my lie!

I think your boss is actually in a very delicate position right now, he's asking you to perform alone what he should have organized a team to do. I would straight up not believe the threat of getting fired.

Also, I'd bet you haven't been told about this in written, which means "Nobody ever told me I had a 20 minutes response time!" is a perfectly valid excuse. If that was written down, you'd have a very easy case in court.

It's up to you on whether you want to go the extra mile to:

  1. Please your boss (make sure he knows you are doing him a favor and ask him to repair the situation as soon as possible)

or

  1. Explain the situation directly to upper management, detailing what would be needed to keep the required availability of the system (in this case, your boss might get a bit closer to getting fired, so if he stays longer you might want to check that your company has anti-retaliation policies).
1

Lots of answers already dealing with the perceived sudden addition of responsibilities so I'm not going to go into that. Instead, I want to address the responsibility itself from the company's perspective.

24/7/365 on-call to monitor mission critical systems

The key thing here is "mission critical". These are systems that your company cannot function without. If they go down, your company is no longer capable of doing business and costs associated with that loss rise tremendously fast. Depending on the size of your company, 20 minutes of not doing business could mean a loss of millions of dollars (they lose profits/productivity while still having to pay everyone). Therefore, these systems need to have as little downtime as possible and someone needs to be in charge of that. That person is now you.

Another factor to consider is if these systems are providing services to external clients. Because if they are, there's a very good chance that there is a Service Level Agreement (SLA) in place between your company and each client. An SLA is a contract that promises a certain level of service - usually represented in minimum uptime as a percentage of hours in given time period that your company promises the service will be available for use. If the service goes down for too many hours, the company is now in breach of their SLAs and there can be legal consequences (usually these consequences are discounts or reimbursements but can potentially be more serious). The 20 minute timeframe here is likely a result of an SLA and if so, that's a non-negotiable requirement.

I will note that you may not always necessarily have to fix the problem within the 20 minutes - you just need to restore service within 20 minutes. For example, if a bug in an update causes things to go down, it's usually acceptable to simply roll back the update to get things running again, then hand off the bug to the development team to diagnose and fix.

So yes, it's not uncommon for companies to require somebody to be on call 24/7/365 to monitor mission-critical systems. It's also not uncommon for there to be hard timeframes for restoring service after an outage and even requirements around how many hours of total downtime the service has each month. Some companies may have multiple people share that responsibility but somebody has to be available to deal with problems at any given moment. It's a job that does need to exist and it usually pays pretty well.

The only thing unusual about this is the fact that you weren't aware that your new position came with this responsibility. That's a miscommunication between you and your manager that you'll need to sort out and there are lots of other answers to help you do that. You'll also need to decide if the compensation they're offering you is worth it.

  • 1
    I think you need to put more emphasis on the fact that having a single person on call for 24/7/365 is a joke and illegal in every country that has labor laws. Yes, it's common to have a team share that task. The same way that flying a plane is teamwork. If you got a contract where the pilot has to serve drinks during the flight, something is way off, although it's common for somebody to do it it's unheard of to put all the tasks on one person. – nvoigt May 15 at 14:17
  • @nvoigt That's a good point but in the corporate world, the ultimate responsibility almost always falls on one person's shoulders. That doesn't necessarily mean that that person has to do it all themselves, though. Typically, they have a team under them that they can delegate most of the work to but they're still responsible for making sure the team actually does the work and does it up to standard. – aleppke May 15 at 14:58
  • @nvoigt But the point of looking at it from the company's perspective is to ignore the fact that it is abusive to put this responsibility on one person and recognize that it is also negligent. Even if it were legal (as it surely must be in some jurisdictions), it's not actually an effective way of achieving the desired level of service. The person can fail and be fired, but the company will still have been in violation. Even the most competent and dedicated employee could fail, perhaps because of external considerations such as a communications failure or being in emergency surgery. – phoog May 16 at 20:02
1

There's another option that I do not see discussed anywhere else, though it might be a long shot: delegate. There are companies that provide this level of service, so it must be possible. How do they do it? They assign more than one person to the 24/7 coverage.

If you have subordinates in your new higher position, you might be able to do this yourself with those subordinates. If you do not, you can try making your case to the higher-ups and hope for the best. The proverbial buck will still presumably stop with you, but if other people are monitoring the systems, the chance of a breach in the SLA will be drastically reduced.

0

See if your new position allows to implement measures that make sure enough the system reasonably CANNOT fail, and if the remaining risk is acceptable to you.

If not, see other answers.

This is not the right thing to do when the whole promotion thing seems to be a setup against you. It is the exactly right thing is the real meaning of the promotion+threat combo is "manage, manager!".

-9

If you have half a mind to leave - don’t! Wait until you get the first callout in the night, then you turn off your phone, go back to sleep and see what happens in the morning.

Seriously, there are two things you can do: One is, you can go to your manager and tell them it’s not going to happen. You will not be on call out without being paid for it, and being on call out 24/7 every day of the year is utterly ridiculous. So your boss has to come up with some different plan. Or two, you start looking for a new position now, and follow my advice in the first paragraph.

One thing that occurred to me: Many companies will remove employees from their premises and cut off all their access when they are fired, presumably for some good reason. But your boss told you that 21 minutes after a callout, if the problem isn’t fixed, you are fired automatically. At that point you probably have a few hours time to destroy their whole IT system completely and beyond any repair. Hey boss, that’s a clever plan! (Not that you should or would do that, obviously, but someone else in your position might).

  • 12
    Not really sure what you're advising here or how it helps OP in any way? Instead of getting out and maintaining their dignity, they should get themselves fired and maybe commit a few crimes in the process? – Thomas Bowen May 14 at 10:30
  • 5
    While I agree withthe first sentence, to even suggest they cause damage to the computer system, makes the entire answers dangerous. – Donald May 14 at 15:11

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