They can, and unfortunately, they don’t have to pay you unless you get called in. There are employers who regularly have employees on this type of on-call “schedule.” It sucks. Some don’t even have any regular hours. They’re just on call, all the time. It’s a terrible way to treat employees.
This is one of those things that simply isn’t illegal, although maybe it should be. There should be something in the law that says employers have to compensate employees in some way for being constantly on call. If you have to be prepared to go into work at any moment, you can’t travel or make any important plans. It can really mess up your ability to have a normal life outside of work.
Some on-call employees do have to be paid. It depends on how many restrictions your employer places on you during your on-call waiting time. If you have to report to work within a very short time, or if you have to stay very close to your work site or be on site, or if your activities while on call are severely restricted, your employer might be required to pay you. In these cases, the law says it’s more like being at work than being on call.
But for many employees, in retail for example, it’s just the way managers do scheduling. If they’re busy, they want you to work. If they’re not busy, they don’t want to pay you to stand around. It’s completely for their own benefit, but there likely aren’t severe restrictions on what you can do when you’re on call, so you’re not entitled to any on-call compensation.
The fact that people are working jobs like this shows how desperate people are for work these days. Obviously, if you need work, it’s better than nothing, but companies who do this certainly aren’t going to get any loyal, long-term employees. It’s sad, and there should be some protection in the law for these workers.
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