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I am manager of several software engineers. Recently our CTO mandated that all engineers must be on call at least once a week, including the work day and evening, once a month, including the weekend of that week.

I have one particular engineer who is refusing to be on call because they claim they were not told when they were hired that there were any on call responsibilities when hired. They also claim they inquired about on-call responsibilities during the interview and were told there would be none.

So now they are demanding an immediate pay raise before being put on call for a week. Not sure this is going to be approved though. CTO is pretty set on the mandate.

Anyone else in a similar situation? Should we just PIP the engineer or make it a part of their bonus to be on call?

I should also note there is a required 15 min response time to pages. The person MUST be able to be online and fixing the problem within 15 mins of the page.

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    To repeat the one solid question for clarification: please state your country, different countries have different laws about this.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 4, 2023 at 9:13
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    Could you please clarify whether the employees would be paid overtime while they're on-call outside of their usual working hours? The sentence "So now they are demanding an immediate pay raise before being put on call for a week." kind of makes it sound as if you were expecting them to work for free during their evenings and week-ends, which would explain their reluctance and would most likely be illegal.
    – Stef
    Oct 4, 2023 at 10:03
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    ... wait. for a week ? They are supposed to be on call not 24h, not 48h but a whole week? With 15 (in words: fifteen) minutes responsetime? Including the weekend? And that CTO can be visited in what mental institution?
    – Fildor
    Oct 4, 2023 at 12:22
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    Maybe consider changing the title to "How can I convince my CTO to not make the software engineers walk out on me?"
    – Fildor
    Oct 4, 2023 at 12:31
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    It is impossible to overstate how malicious this question is. :-{
    – xxbbcc
    Oct 4, 2023 at 15:23

17 Answers 17

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Recently our CTO mandated...
CTO is pretty set on the mandate.

The CTO's whims do not supersede the contract between your employee and the company. I'm surprised I need to explain this to someone who both manages employees and presumably is an employee of the company themselves.

Anyone else in a similar situation? Should we just PIP the engineer or make it a part of their bonus to be on call?

It is hard for me to read your question as if it's genuinely looking for a way to keep everybody happy and to come to a mutual agreement.

The solutions you proposed all amount to finding a way for your company to renege on the deal that was made with this employee at the start of their employment, either by adding a previously not agreed upon metric to the (presumably agreed upon) bonus, or by falsely claiming the employee's performance is lacking.
Both proposed solutions are exceedingly unethical (with the latter being downright illegal) and seem to suggest that you're interested in finding a way for the company to one-sidedly add responsibilities to the employee's workload without their consent, agreement, or even compensation.

You're failing at the absolute basics of how a contract is formed between two parties. Your company wishes to renegotiate the deal they made with this employee. The employee actually engaged you in this renegotiation. You made your desired changes to the contract known (on-call work), they made their desired changes to the contract known (added salary). Unless a mutually agreed upon deal can be found, there's not much left to say here.

Your continuation of seeking other ways to force this on the employee without any compensation or approval from their end is not going to benefit you in the long run. You're opening yourselves up to lawsuits (you're flirting with several breaches of contract here and are even asking about how to abuse the PIP to oust an employee for not catering to the CTO's whims), risking losing the employee altogether, and will probably end up significantly damaging the overall staff's feelings about the company (possibly driving them away as well).

The only sensible advice I can give you is to either abandon your cause here and now, or join the employee at the renegotiation table and negotiate with them in earnest.

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If he genuinely asked and was informed "no on call" you can't force him to give up his personal time. Otherwise what you are doing is changing his job description without his consent.

Even offering more money (which you also seem to be against) wouldn't be a good enough reason to make someone give up their own time.

To top it off the threat that they must drop whatever they are doing and somehow be able to be in front of a computer within 15 minutes is a big ask. You're essentially imprisoning the poor guy on his day off.

You can't force people to work for free.

Judging by all this it seems your company culture is terrible. I'm guessing he'll be threatened with termination soon because of this as well.

Personally if it was me I'd find another better paying job as this one doesn't deserve my time and effort.

I hope that employee digs in his heels (as he has every right) and successfully sues if and when he is let go. That might hopefully be the right motivation for your CTO that you can't treat employees like your personal slaves.

Sorry if this comes across a little strongly worded but you have posted several red flags that the company does indeed have a terrible culture and has no regard for its employees.

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There's only one answer to this question.

Money.

You either need to employ specific employees to handle out of hours issues, or you need to pay your existing employees to be on-call; so if they're oncall for 24 hours, they're getting paid for those 24 hours, whether they get called or not. If someone does not want to join the oncall schedule, they don't need to, but they don't get the oncall payment.

Questions about contracts and job interviews are irrelevant. You can safely assume that noone was told at the interview stage about the oncall requirement, so now you need to sweeten the pot by paying them for the absolute inconvenience of being at your instant beck and call.

Finally; if you need a 15-minute response, you need to be prepared to pay for that response. A lot. You need to take a busines view of this; at 2am in the morning, would your clients notice a 15 minute downtime? Do you need to add in a scheduled downtime for maintenance etc?

You have a problem to solve. It's not complicated, and doesn't need PIPs or similar for staff. All you need to do is ask, and wave a large wodge of cash in front of them.

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    I truly like this answer. "Questions about contracts and job interviews are irrelevant." Absolutely right. Even they were told at the interview and written in the contract, so what ? After they are forced to be on-call, you'll see they quit the job. The only solution is money. After you pay good enough money, no complaints will be heard. Every one will come to you asking for on-call. I had similar experience. After the manager announced that overtime pay would be double the regular pay, every one wanted to work overtime. Work life balance ? Never heard of it !
    – Nobody
    Oct 3, 2023 at 14:47
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    Oh, some people do pay attention to work-life balance. But, if you raise the pay high enough, say 4 times of the regular pay, your problem will be solved. Of course, this depends on your business needs and if 4 times of regular pay is worth the business requirement.
    – Nobody
    Oct 3, 2023 at 15:02
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    just to say there is NO amount of money that I will accept for being on call. I have been a software developer for over 30 years. Out of hours support is, IMO, for specific employees or volunteers only. I have NEVER done it.
    – kpollock
    Oct 4, 2023 at 12:04
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    @kpollock Throw enough money at the problem, and you have enough to hire dedicate people. Its always a question of how much money does the business want to spend. 4 times the pay? Thats probably enough to hire three dedicated people in a rotating shift system. Oct 4, 2023 at 13:53
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    @user1937198 That's why there isn't really a labour shortage, it's actually a payment shortage.
    – Peter M
    Oct 4, 2023 at 15:31
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I dealt with this and have resisted during all my career. I've been a noncustodial parent of my two children for two or three weekends a month on a court-ordered fixed schedule. An arbitrary on-call schedule would mean colliding with family time that I could NEVER get back. I can't count the number of inconsiderate oafs I've worked for who would say, "Well, why can't your wife take care of that?" when I would challenge such mandates in lieu of spending much needed-quality time with my children. (I am single.)

Such a mandate means that the engineers can't comfortably make ANY outside commitments related to family, school, rest, personal enrichment, their faith -- zilch. Really?

You're not going to be able to keep qualified engineers. Your better approach is going to be:

  • Add lots more automation before your code gets into the pipeline (unit tests on the CI side, and automation on the QA side)
  • Specifically pay someone to be responsible for first-level support and monitoring.
  • Buy monitoring tools that will tell you of faults before they occur
  • Load balancing
  • Do NOT do any deployments on Fridays, and especially before three-day weekends.
  • Create an environment where quality code is valued over quantity. Resist last-minute changes from the business, because this is the stuff that stresses engineering teams out and where the mistakes are made.

The mandates will tear the place apart, especially if your CTO can ever be found at the golf course while claiming that the "team" needs to work things out during a crisis. Right now, you have a BOSS, and not a LEADER.

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    CTO and golf course. I have a feeling the CTO on the golf course knows EXACTLY what he is doing. No need for WARN acts or any such nonsense when engineers leave of their own accord.
    – paulj
    Oct 4, 2023 at 13:41
  • I have worked at a company where all engineers were expected to have some amount of on-call duties. It was actually not that onerous. No single engineer was expected to be on-call 24/7 all the time. Instead, each team had a rotating schedule of one team member being on-call at a time, and it was common for engineers to trade on-call shifts with each other, or to ask for a volunteer to cover a few specific hours so the scheduled engineer could focus on some other commitment. Asking for compensation is reasonable, but on-call duties do not generally make outside commitments impossible.
    – Douglas
    Oct 4, 2023 at 17:40
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    @Douglas It depends on the exact circumstances, but it certainly can play havoc with outside commitments!  In my case (a couple of jobs ago, thank goodness) we had to be logged on within 15 mins of a call or alert.  This was before mobile broadband, and I had no laptop — so that meant never doing anything more than 15 mins away from home (such as choir rehearsals, or some family visits).  It also ruled out anything where stopping suddenly would cause trouble (such as leading the band at church or singing in concerts).  Even things like shopping were tricky, and nights out almost impossible…
    – gidds
    Oct 4, 2023 at 18:14
  • @gidds Yes, while you personally are currently on-call, it interferes with outside commitments. My point is that on-call duties typically are intermittent and can be scheduled around, whether by scheduling the outside commitment to be in an off-call period, or by changing the on-call shift schedule to make you be off-call when the outside commitment is scheduled for. Now, if you're talking about being on-call 24/7 all year long, then yes that absolutely will cripple your personal life and is completely unreasonable, but that is unusual and does not sound like the question's situation.
    – Douglas
    Oct 4, 2023 at 18:26
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    @Douglas It depends on the situation.  In my case, it was one solid week in every 3, which didn't play well with weekly commitments.
    – gidds
    Oct 4, 2023 at 18:32
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It certainly depends on the companies' jurisdiction, but in many countries with stronger employment laws employees must be compensated for being on-call and there are a maximum number of hours employees are allowed to be on-call per week.

And this makes a lot of sense because being on-call interferes significantly on what an employee can do with their “free” time. When I was on-call in the past, I had to respond to alarms or notifications within 10 minutes and I had to have my computer with me wherever I went to. Some example:

  • You cannot go to the theater when being on-call, because you cannot answer the phone there.
  • No sports, like swimming or running, because you cannot take your computer with you.
  • You cannot travel, because you might miss a call in an area with no reception.
  • You might have to leave a party when you get a call, or
  • You will get no sleep for several hours.

Therefore, it absolutely makes sense that employment laws cover on-call or standby duties too. And IMHO, it is a major red flag when an employer is not willing to compensate people who are on call for their time and the limitations on their lives.

When there are no laws around this topic in your country, then you might be more flexible in how to compensate, but the company should still make concessions.

How most companies I worked with handled this in the past:

Pay a fixed, low amount per hour being on call, no matter if the employee is actually called out. The amount could be something like 1/4 of their normal salary but at least minimum wage. When called out outside of business hours, pay the employee double their normal salary per hour. Make clear that you do not expect employees to be in the office and work normal hours when they were called out at night.

Another option might be (when your jurisdiction doesn't dictate how to handle standby duties) to compensate the employee with free time or more flexibility. Once, I worked with the rule that the employee being on-call had no other duties during that time apart from fixing issues and making sure they do not happen again – no meetings, no normal work, I didn't even need to come to the office. That basically meant when we were lucky and there we were not called out during the on-call week, we had a full week of free time (with the above restrictions on personal life). This obviously only works when the average time of emergency work per week is lower than the normal working hours, otherwise employees would still be exploited.

No matter how you compensate employees for their time, remember that the best strategy is to keep the number of callouts as low as possible. Your highest priority should always be that people being on call hard get called out at all. The more often they are called out at unpleasant times, there harder it will be for you to find people willing to do the job, no matter how much you pay.

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    Having been on-call with a similar scheme in France: by law, in France, an employee needs at least 11 consecutive non-work hours between work days, and 36 consecutive non-work hours between work weeks. That is, if you leave your work at 17:30 and are called from 04:00 (10:30 later) to 05:00, then you shall not show at the office before 16:00 the next day. Similarly, if you leave work at 17:30 on Friday evening, and are called from 05:00 to 06:00 Sunday morning (35:30 later), then you shall not show at the office before 18:00 Tuesday evening, ie not come on Monday and Tuesday. Oct 4, 2023 at 10:12
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    @MatthieuM.L That's not specific to France, that's the EU working time directive of 2003.
    – MSalters
    Oct 4, 2023 at 23:13
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I used to be on a 24h emergency call in shifts of a week.

During that week, they could call you at any time, and you have to be ready to connect and fix whatever problem they are calling you.

Of course this was not for free. People on call receive and extra amount for the availability. This was fully stablished in the contracts we signed and agreed.

The amount was the same if you receive no calls or if you receive several of them. This was a good incentive to have our systems fully checked and working smoothly, so you don't have to wake up at night to solve a problem that won't have happened if you had the systems properly checked.

So it was a win-win situation. We ensured that the systems won't fail by having proactive checks and anticipating possible failures. Eg: a new part is being added in the database next week, let's run an exhaustive list of tests to ensure that the part is fully integrated, instead of running the minimum amount of checks and then having to spend sleep hours fixing some stupid bug.

That's my experience. Your question seems to suggest that this availability won't be compensated and that this was not written in the contract that people signed. In this circumstances you can expect nobody to accept to do the extra work for free. People like being compensated for the work they do, so if you are now requiring extra availability to be in place you should have the necessary budged to cover that.

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    "The amount was the same if you receive no calls or if you receive several of them. This was a good incentive to have our systems fully checked and working smoothly" Actually, getting more money while fixing an issue during on-call is the better incentive for the company. If you fix issues for the same cost like not fixing issues, there is no incentive to proactively prevent issues from popping up for the company.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 4, 2023 at 9:09
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    True, but if you get paid only when receiving calls, your incentive as employee would be to receive more calls. That would impact the quality of the service impacting the client satisfaction. Also, the availability prevents you from doing things that week that would prevent you connecting. Being available for a system that never crashes would mean being available for free. The incentive for people on duty would be to receive some calls. Trust me, it's a win-win situation to pay a flat rate for availability. System works well and employees are happy
    – Elerium115
    Oct 4, 2023 at 10:00
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    @SembeiNorimaki: Honestly, I was never happy regardless of how much I was paid. I just found the "need to be available" too stifling. I had a colleague who appreciated the extra pay -- especially as we rarely if ever got called -- and would happily snapped up most of my shifts on top of his, and I was ever grateful to him. Oct 4, 2023 at 10:16
  • I think here it depends on your particular agreement and how much you value money vs. availability vs how often the system crashes. What's relevant for the question is that the conditions should be in the contract and accepted by the employee. If the conditions are not good, just negotiate better ones or decline the job offer and search something else.
    – Elerium115
    Oct 4, 2023 at 11:06
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    @SembeiNorimaki "Trust me, it's a win-win situation to pay a flat rate for availability. System works well and employees are happy" That only works in a One-Man-Show or when all coworkers have about equal level of competence. Have one bad apple in there and that blows up in your face. Badly. Tested for you, so you don't have to.
    – Fildor
    Oct 4, 2023 at 15:58
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Having been in a similar situation recently (needing people to be on call for IT emergencies after hours, on public holidays and on weekends, location is Germany), here's how we did it:

  1. Identify the actual hours when we need to be available as per our contracts with the customers
  2. Check the relevant labour laws for work on weekends, after-hours etc. Something like 'being on call' is usually considered in there somewhere. It's usually not quite the same as active work hours.
  3. Decide on a rate of compensation for extra hours (ended up with an 'X-amount of € for being on call per 8-hour period + Y-amount of € for actual hours worked')
  4. THEN we approached the relevant teams and asked who wants to "go into the pool" for being on-call
  5. Offer trainings to clarify what steps exactly were required

We found an adequate number of volunteers with this approach.
As others have pointed out, depending on where you are asking for more work (especially in off-hours) without compensation is possibly illegal.

Edit after comment from @til_b:
To clarify, the Y-amount (compensation for actual work) is hourly, not flat per call. The exact amount depends on the employees' adjusted salary, so a senior being on call will earn more than a junior. While it's not quite possible to give an exact y/x figure, the X-amount very roughly translates to between 2-4 regular hourly wages for the relevant people, not factoring in any bonuses for off-hours etc.

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    Also: OP's approach is just straight up illegal in Germany.
    – Hobbamok
    Oct 5, 2023 at 12:47
  • Out of interest, could you add the ratio y/x to your answer, to see how much the dynamic part of the model pays?
    – til_b
    Oct 12, 2023 at 8:27
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    @til_b I added in the relevant information. Roughly speaking, for a junior it'll be roundabout: y/x = 1/4, if they work for 1 hour during an 8-hour "on call" period. For a senior, it's closer to 1/2, since X amount is fixed while Y amount varies by wage.
    – Mookuh
    Oct 12, 2023 at 15:54
  • tl;dr: Pay enough money, and people will volunteer :-).
    – sleske
    Jan 18 at 11:37
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There are already plenty of good answers but I just have to call out this particular part:

Should we just PIP the engineer or make it a part of their bonus to be on call?

The callousness with which this is being said is truly worrying.

PIP, really? You are considering straight up lying about your employee's performance just to have it your (or your CTO's) way?

And the only other option you can think of is to break your side of the contract?

You don't ever convince anybody of anything by only demanding - simple as.

You need to offer something in return - or at least consider their counter-demand. It's called negotiation.

Your employee is in his full right to demand extra compensation for what you're asking of them.

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I have actually introduced on-call duty in teams multiple times.

Long story short, to motivate you need:

  • Intrinsic motivation - Why is the team doing on-call duty, e.g. a culture and setup for DevOps or You-build-it-you-run-it. This is especially important if you are trying to get highly-qualified knowledge workers doing off hours on-call shifts.

  • Extrinsic motivation - Time and/or financial compensation for the team members doing on-call duty time in addition to the actual working time they might work during incidents. Note that in most civil places there are employment laws governing on-call shifts, mandatory rest periods, evening/night/weekend/holiday work, etc.

  • Have the team do on-call work for areas of which they are actually in control - this raises commitment and motivation.

  • Invest in a well-functioning incident triage, to make sure that the incidents which reach your on-call staff are actually relevant, and not false-positives or someone else's responsibility.

  • Provide decent support in terms of education, physical and digital access, documentation, processes, escalation paths, etc.

This takes a fair bit of work, and, I would argue, only works if you actually mean it. I.e. you cannot build up a functioning DevOps solution team without properly subscribing to the cultural and procedural changes, and without investing the (initial) time and money needed.

Of course instead of motivating the team you can always try to coerce them... But quite apart from any moral objections one might have - in the given IT economy I would say you can't coerce your IT knowledge workers to do much of anything. Otherwise they will just up and leave - and will have new jobs lined up by the end of the day... and rightly so!

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  • This doesn't answer the question - the employee says they were told no on-call in the interview so thinks it is part of the contract. They will just not do on-call whatever the motivation, their motivation is higher off work is off work.
    – mmmmmm
    Oct 11, 2023 at 11:14
  • This does answer the question. To get someone to accept an offer you can either motivate them to do so, or you can try to coerce them. This answer addresses both options, with actual experience-backed strategies for the former. The whole discussion around contracts is a non-starter: you can't force anyone to do anything they don't want to, regardless of contract or not, especially in IT. They will simply leave.
    – fgysin
    Oct 11, 2023 at 13:30
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    No they don't leave they sue you for constructive dismissal
    – mmmmmm
    Oct 11, 2023 at 16:59
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Recently our CTO mandated that all engineers must be on call at least once a week, including the work day and evening, once a month, including the weekend of that week.

Yes, I too find CTOs typically to be disjointed from reality.


Tell me, how much would a 3rd party vendor charge to be on-call 24/7 and meet the requirement of "required 15 min response time to pages"?

You think this is somehow lessened by the fact that it's spread out across multiple engineers??

I cannot even begin to quantify the myriad of things to shove up you know where in the presence of such a mandate. Once-per-week 24-hour on-call without asking first nor increased compensation??? You expect them to clear out their non-work time for free?? Utter Looney Toons.

If your business's product is so shaky that you need to put engineers on call then you need to address the product.

If most of these emergencies are id10t errors then putting engineers on tech support like this is a recipe for disaster.

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I think I'm echoing only what is already said, but it's completely unreasonable to expect a pager to be carried and a 15-minute response time, unless the person is being paid to be on call and to organise their geographic location, movements, and personal disposition (hosting guests, drinking alcohol, etc.) around the restriction.

Even for those who have not put their foot down so far, you'll almost certainly find there'll be endless excuses for why staff don't respond in the event, so that the out-of-hours coverage ends up being largely imaginary, and recriminations begin that will just lead to departures and a mentality of short horizons amongst your staff.

As others have noted, your approach sounds like you are simply looking for some coercive approach that will be of decisive effect, but when employers start dictating your activities outside the standard working day or unilaterally increasing working hours (particularly without any suggestion of additional pay), a great many workers consider a matter of principle to be at stake.

The hours during which you are required to attend to the employer, and the pay attributable to attendance, are what both sides typically regard as the most fundamental aspects of the bargain.

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Your employee is right to ask for more money to take on more responsibilities and take more of their time.

A comment on PeteCon's answer puts it succinctly.

That's why there isn't really a labour shortage, it's actually a payment shortage. – Peter M

The idea that "overtime exempt" employees (US jurisdiction) are basically constantly available is an abuse of that classification.

Edit: I had a good link for violations, but included an irrelevant quote from it. I'm replacing it with a better source.

1. Believing Salaried Employees Are Not Entitled To Overtime

Many employers are under the mistaken belief that only employees earning wages on an hourly basis are entitled to overtime. The fact is that an employee is not prohibited from receiving overtime wages simply because they are paid a set salary. In order for a salaried employee to be prevented from receiving overtime, the employee must qualify for one of the specific exemptions provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). ...
...
8. On-Call Work

At times, employers require employees to be “on-call” when they are not scheduled to work, requiring the employee to be available to be called into work at a moment’s notice. When this occurs, employers often fail to pay the employee for this time. Determining whether an employee’s on-call time is considered work-time for which compensation is required depends on the facts involved. The general rule is that if an employee is required to remain on-call on the employer’s premises or so close that they cannot use the time effectively for their own purposes, the waiting time is considered hours worked under the FLSA and is compensable.

https://wagefirm.com/common-violations-of-the-flsa/

The rest of that page is an excellent resource for plenty of very common violations, so everyone should read it to learn the law to protect yourself from those abuses, too.

And just so we're clear on what "overtime exempt" classification entails, here's another article to read. Here's a the highlights.

First, the government looks at the employee’s annual pay. Workers who make less than $23,600 per year – or $455 per week – are automatically considered non-exempt employees. ...

Next, the government will determine whether the employee is paid on a “salary basis.” Essentially, this means that the employee is guaranteed to make a set amount of money in any given week that some work is performed. ...

If the first two tests are met, the government will then look to see whether the employee performs exempt job duties. Only executive, professional or administrative duties will be considered exempt. ... The professional duties exemption is meant to cover what the DOL refers to as “learned professions” including doctors and nurses, lawyers, architects, clergy, scientists, accountants, engineers and other jobs that require advanced knowledge. ...

If all three of these tests are met, the employee can be properly classified as exempt. If not, the employee will be considered to be non-exempt and must be paid at least 1.5 times his or her normal hourly rate for any overtime worked. Overtime is defined as working more than 40 hours during any given workweek. ...

(Bolding for emphasis is my edit.)

These abuses aren't just something new, either. They've been happening for decades, as this 1999 article describes as happening for years even then. And it includes a section specifically for software developers:

“For example, California doesn’t have a specific exemption for computer professionals, which is available under the federal law. [So] California employers should treat any programmers who spend more than 50 percent of their time writing code as nonexempt.”

- Mae Lon Ding, president of Anaheim Hills, California-based Personnel Systems Associates.

Abuses are so common (and unreported*) in the US that I wrote a calculator to show how much money employees are losing when they work unpaid overtime, trying to educate workers on how much they are really are missing out on. This calculator includes the equivalent pay someone working hourly would be making if they were doing the same job and getting paid the legal minimum overtime rate. It also calculates how much employers are saving by just in payroll for not paying overtime rates.

https://ericsgear.com/utilities/OvertimeExemptionCalculator/

In the default example in the calculator above, an employee working an average of 45 hours a week at $20 an hour is losing $7800 gross yearly pay by not getting paid for their overtime. An experienced software developer making $50 an hour at 45 hours per week is missing out on $19,500 per year. Of course, working more hours and making more money makes the problem even worse.

Oh, you think that's an exaggeration? Well, working a single hour per week without getting paid for it at $50 an hour is $3900 in lost wages for an employee.

And you want your employee to do more work and work longer hours without a pay raise? And you want them to possibly miss sleep, have to miss their kids' school events, interrupt private time with their spouse/significant other, or 1000 other situations in their private life?

Yeah, that's probably not going to last very long, even for the employees that agreed to it. And that will depend also on how often they get called after hours. If it's common, then you can bet it will be pretty quick that you have the whole department asking for a raise.

Personally, I won't work overtime or even take a job that requires on-call rotations. There's no benefits for me, since there are other jobs that pay the same (or higher) for positions that don't require it.

* Most cases are unreported because the employee doesn't know what the laws are.

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Not told when hired: Check the employment contract; it almost certainly contains some phrase equivalent to "and other duties as assigned." If so, not having been told when hired is not grounds for a legal complaint.

On the other hand, on-call is an unprintable pain in the patootie, and is certainly grounds for "you aren't paying me enough for me to be happy with that." And you can't say that isn't a valid position to take.

Nobody is going to like on-call. You need to make it (more) palatable by offering something they value. Overtime pay if they get called out. Additional vacation (or flex-time at a minimum) to make up for taking time away from them. Significant boost in wages for anyone who has the new responsibilities. Other things which make the employees feel that you understand you are asking more of them and appreciate/reward them appropriately as a result. This should have been announced at the same time as the new duties.

Most urgently, an explicit statement that management understands that time spent on-call means other work is going to be delayed and nobody will be punished for the resulting schedule slippage. And an explanation of how performance evaluation of the on-call duties works that convinces people it will be handled fairly.

And whatever you offer, some employees will walk rather than accept on-call. The CTO has to accept that this is a logical outcome of their new policy, and be prepared to hire and train replacements. Who may also demand to be paid more if this is part of their job.

Policies have consequences. If you aren't prepared to accept the consequences, drop that policy change and negotiate one that doesn't treat people like components.

12
  • 23
    "and other duties as assigned." - you might argue that this clause allows the employer to order their software engineers to dance on stage, clean the bathrooms, or serve food. But I doubt it can be used as a justification for fundamentally altering the working time. Oct 2, 2023 at 23:25
  • 2
    For altering total hours, perhaps not. For altering time of day, probably. Shift work, including rotating shift work, is a thing and the contract probably doesn't exclude it unless the employee was able to get an agreement to that before signing. In any case, industry has been using on-call long enough that I'm sure the company lawyers know exactly how to defend it, so I wouldn't attempt fighting it on basis of when, just (possibly) how much.
    – keshlam
    Oct 2, 2023 at 23:32
  • 5
    Note that the OP wrote "including the work day and evening". This sounds to me a lot like employees are expected to work both the time they already work in regularly ("the work day") plus possibly additional work during the evening if anything comes up (and effectively, facing severe restrictions as to how they can use that time otherwise, given that they have to be ready and going at the computer within 15 minutes, arguably making it working time, as well). Oct 2, 2023 at 23:37
  • 7
    This certainly depends on the jurisdiction but in many "other duties as assigned" is only valid for work hours, not for your otherwise free time. In some they are seen as "sort-of-work-hours" ( because you cannot use them the same as usual free time ) and any on-call duties have an impact on the time where you can start next work hours, or total hours per week/month etc. and for some even mandated to be paid per hour by law.
    – PlasmaHH
    Oct 4, 2023 at 10:10
  • 10
    It's a fascinating phenomenon that keshlam's U.S.-accurate observations are getting plastered so badly by disbelieving non-U.S. readers. (I get that frequently on SE Academia myself.) Oct 4, 2023 at 14:00
4

One possible way out of your dilemma, if you don't have a budged, is to trade time for time.

E.g., one week on call and one week with no work at all as if on vacation. Or whatever exchange rate gets you enough volunteers.

Pending check whether this is legal and feasible.

But yeah, what everyone else said, it's unreasonable of your company to demand this work for nothing.

2

I fairly successful implementation of this I have seen also involved money, but once the money is there you should consider to make an implementation where it will be voulenteer based.

It should be doable because some people are less stressed than others when beeing on call and therefore they will be happy to do it.

1

Just a reminder that "engineers on call" should be last resort if the folks actually assigned to customer support have tried and failed to handle the problem and the customer is really unable to wait. (There are legitimate cases of "I'm losing a million dollars of sales a minute while this is down!" which justify exceptional support effort, but "my report isn't due until next Thursday but I need to know it'll be working by then" doesn't.)

IBM had three levels of service support before even considering on-call, sometimes (a bit rudely) referred to as the monkey system. Calls first go to the one-banana monkeys who know enough to give standard answers to common problems and to gather a clear problem report. If they can't solve it, it gets passed to the two-banana monkeys who know enough to dig deeper, do some problem determination, resolve most user errors, and gather a detailed technical problem report, preferably including how they were able to reproduce the problem for analysis (or how they failed to do so, despite trying to get every bit of relevant information the customer was willing to share). If the two-banana (level two) team can't resolve it, it goes to the three-banana experts, at which point the developer gets involved since it's probably going to involve subtleties of the design or implementation, and quite possibly active debugging of code.

Note that Level 1 is staffed 24 hours, Level 2 mostly works normal shifts but may have some off-hours folks or get called in if there's a crisis, and level 3 is always normal hours unless the customer is actively bleeding large amounts of money. If there's any Level 3 on-call, the expectation is that the call will almost never occur.

Note that part of the goal here is to not spend three-banana prices (plus overtime rewards) on things that can be solved by less expensive monkeys, and to provide each new level if monkey with as accurate and detailed a starting point as possible so they don't have to waste time repeating the (more) obvious.

Admittedly IBM is large enough to be able to afford three layers, and has customers who are willing to pay for that level of service. A smaller company needs to decide how much support they can charge their customers for, and accept that they can only deliver as much support as budgeted before they're spending resources that could/should have gone elsewhere. Every hour a developer spends in service is one less hour spent in development, even if you do pay them enough to be willing to accept call-out and keep that as rare as possible; overtime has costs in fatigue and lower productivity as well as in dollars, and developers who can't develop usually get frustrated and leave.

(I had one friend who worked Level 3 by choice, enjoying that kind of challenge more than design and build, and who was remarkably good at it. If you find someone like that, treasure them and reward them appropriately! But even he only got called in off-hours when there was really no other option.)

-8

First you should check what happened in the interview and check what your employment contract says. If they are solid then insist on it or let them go.

Despite us having the above in our company, there were occasions when one of the employees would not answer a call and later make an excuse for it, so we implemented the following -

  1. We put them on a roster, where two of them had to be on call every day/night and let them manage the roster.
  2. We offered the one rostered on, $50 per day for being on call for night and another $50 for public holidays.

There were some people that were rostered on more than others. And some couldnt or didnt want to be rostered on. This insured that a person who was rostered on more than others was not disadvantaged. For us, this scheme fixed the issue.

2
  • 1
    8 downvotes, anyone care to comment why Oct 5, 2023 at 14:43
  • 5
    Probably because it's identifies an employees who doesn't want to do extra work for no pay a troublemaker. And also refers to peer pressuring the employee.
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 5, 2023 at 14:46

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