I went through a fairly lengthy interview process for my current employer. I asked many questions about the job and the nature of the work. On-call time was never mentioned. Now this employer is trying to initiate rotating on-call time where each employee gets a night from about 5pm to 6am.

I've only been here a few months, so part of me wants to just suck it up and not cause problems. But also, I've done on-call before, and it sucks. And I'm really kind of irritated that they would try to roll it out as if its not a big deal.

Should I try to renegotiate for the time spent on-call?

EDIT: to answer some of the comment questions. I am in the US and these are additional hours, not a different shift.

  • 4
    If it isn't in the contract, they should be re-negotiating with everyone. It is a change in working conditions.
    – Oded
    Nov 28, 2012 at 16:45
  • What rate to ask for is off topic so I have removed that from the question. Nov 28, 2012 at 18:08
  • You should probably wait until the process is implemented before you try to renegotiate. They may implement some sort of compensation program to deal with it. Nov 28, 2012 at 18:15
  • 3
    Is there any plan for compensating you and your peers for time spent on call? Nov 28, 2012 at 18:48
  • @Oded in the US every employee--employer relationship is a contract Nov 29, 2012 at 16:46

5 Answers 5


How likely are you to actually get called? There is a pretty wide range of organizations out there. In some, the on call person will undoubtedly get called a couple times per week for something. In others, things run smoothly enough that calls happen maybe once a quarter.

What are the rules for being on call? If the expectation is that the on call person can't go see a movie or be more than a certain distance from their laptop, that's a pretty serious imposition. If the expectation is that you can live your life and that they'll just continue down the list until they find someone that can fix the issue, that's a different level of imposition.

Does the employer's proposal include a policy on how to handle on-call time as a starting point? How flexible is the employer planning on being if you're called at 2am to fix an issue-- does that mean that you don't have to come in the next day until noon (or that you can leave at noon)? Or are they expecting these to be purely additional hours? Is this flexibility something that appeals to you? Or are you solely interested in negotiating additional pay?

It's not unreasonable to go to your employer and say "You're asking me to work X additional hours per week and disrupting Y hours of my free time, I'm going to need some additional consideration" where X and Y are based on the probability of getting called, the amount of time that is likely to be spent addressing the issue, and the rules around being on call. Generally, it will be easier for the employer to come up with some sort of "comp time" policy that can be applied to everyone that is on call (i.e. if you spend an hour fixing something that broke at night everyone is happy if you come in 2 hours late or leave 2 hours early the next day). It is, of course, possible that the employer would be willing to negotiate additional pay but that would generally set a bad precedent for them since the other developers would likely want a similar benefit. If you've been there a few months, perhaps you could ask for a review at the 6 month mark which combines your performance and your additional responsibilities (being on call) where you could negotiate a raise. That lets the employer avoid setting a precedent of paying additional for being on call while allowing you to get some extra compensation.

On-call time was never mentioned.

This is the key here. They broke the terms of their agreement with you.

Here are the steps I think you should take:

  1. Bring it to their attention that this requirement was never mentioned in your employment agreement.
  2. If they tell you to go fly a kite, then you can expect more surprises from them because this will be a pattern.
  • 5
    +1 for your second point. Any company worth working for will appreciate that this isn't something that they can decide without consulting their employees. Nov 29, 2012 at 5:50

This is going to be dependent on how you're paid, truthfully.

If you're a salaried employee, tough luck honestly. You're paid to work as many hours as they need you to work, that's the beauty and the beast of being a salary employee.

If you're hourly, then it would be legally wrong for them not to pay you for any time worked during these on-call hours. They don't have to pay you for "being" on-call, but rather from the moment you answer an on-call phone call until that work recesses.

And, if you're contracted and it's not stated in your contract then you should probably ask for a renegotiation of the contract. This is, if you feel as though they would negotiate this issue instead of just terminating the contract and yourself and finding someone who's willing to do this work. Something you should think about when asking for a renegotiation.

Usually on-call hours come with a higher rate if it's hourly/contracted. Most companies that I've worked for that paid extra for being on-call(I've worked for others who didn't pay anything) they've set this payrate as a company standard for all employees.

  • 3
    If you're a salaried employee, tough luck honestly. A salaried position should come with a description of duties or an outline, and if that does not include on call time then this also calls for a renegotiation. Nov 29, 2012 at 5:49
  • @Kirk Broadhurst and in the real world if that on-call movement specifically constitutes the integrity of the systems/etc that you're working on as a salaried employee during the daytime then it counts as your duty to maintain those systems. Arguing otherwise on this could find yourself in the hot seat for termination. You're paid to work as many hours as it takes to uphold the job duties that you've been hired on to do, if this involves after-hours support/maintenance/upgrades/etc then you're obligated.
    – SQLSavant
    Nov 29, 2012 at 7:47
  • if this is a new requirement - since you began your employment - then you aren't obligated to provide this support without some renegotiation of your role. And in the real world it would likely be illegal for this to result in a termination. But regardless, IT workers are in demand and if the employer doesn't want to play ball - fair compensation for fair work - then any self respecting and self-confident employee will move on. Nov 29, 2012 at 11:49
  • 1
    @cloyd800 Beware throwing the "legally" as this differs greatly between jurisdictions. It's not automatically so that your employer "owns" you 24/7 and free-time is at the employers discretion, as you seem to imply. In most civilized countries, there are definitions on what "full time" means, and additionally it's often spelled out in hiring contracts for salaried employees. Where I live and work, on-call would definitely be something I would expect and demand to be compensated for. Not at the regular work-time level, but still.
    – pap
    Nov 29, 2012 at 12:15
  • @pap If you're a true salary employee, meaning salary-exempt. You do not have to be compensated for overtime, and 40 hour full time doesn't not apply. (Based on US laws)
    – SQLSavant
    Nov 30, 2012 at 17:32

Do you feel that you have agreed to something here already? If so then it is a renegotiation, otherwise it would be a negotiation of how should this stuff be handled. Is just being on-call when nothing happens enough to warrant taking some other time off, a pay raise or something else?

Depending on where the company is in terms of profitability and a few other things I could see trying to get some kind of overtime rate while at the other end is just doing it in good faith that you'll be remembered at some point in the future.


It totally depends on the company.

Most "on-call" work isn't really "work"; you just get the beeper that the shift workers will page when there's a problem requiring a solution more technical than "reboot the machine and see if that fixes it".

If this "on-call" position actually requires you to be on-premises during the on-call time, whether there's a problem or not, then you should be paid for it; it's time away from your wife and kids. If the "on-call" work de facto requires you to be in the office all night, there's a serious problem with your infrastructure and you should spend daylight hours working to fix the problems that are keeping you up on your on-call nights.

At my company, there are a few individuals in various departments who are the "go-tos", day or night, for problems of various types (technical, interpersonal, business, etc). They are recognized by management and compensated for their expertise and work ethic accordingly, even though our business and its systems are, for the most part, pretty well-oiled and don't require a lot of technical intervention.

Sounds like your boss may be trying to do an end-run around having to recognize anyone in particular for extra effort by spreading it out among the technical staff; if everyone has to do it, it's nothing special so nobody gets kudos for it. Understand that if this is the motive, the move, from a managerial perspective, is a stroke of genius; If on-call work is really a serious commitment worthy of more pay, then you're not doing the job properly during your daylight hours. If you are the only one coming to the boss asking for more money because of this new on-call rotation, then you stick out; everyone else is taking it in stride, so your concerns look minor. And even if the entire technical staff comes into the boss's office at once voicing concerns, someone's gotta be on call; this is the "fair and equitable" method. If everyone wants more money, it's harder to fire all of you or stand by while you all quit if he can't or won't agree, though I would be extremely surprised if that happened over just this one thing; your job would have to be a pretty serious hellhole long before this came up.

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