Boss wants me available 24 hrs a day – Do I need to comply?

15 pts.
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Career Development
Tech support
My boss paged me a couple of weeks ago on the public PA (because I was not at my desk) and decided that I should have a company cell phone so he could always reach me. The phone's great, but I'm expected to have it on my person 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I can't make personal calls on it...it's just so my boss can get hold of me. Is this normal? I feel like I've been chipped or something. Can he really ask me to be available to him 24/7 without offering extra compensation? I'm salaried, but this wasn't part of the deal when I got hired. This phone is like a big millstone hanging off my belt and it's causing fights with my wife. Is there some kind of logical argument I can offer my boss to say "no thanks" to this electronic tether? Or am I just stuck with it because that's the way of the future? Should I be flattered that my boss thinks I'm important enough that I need to be able to be reached at any time? That's why my wife thinks but I'm not so sure. Can I ask for more money now that I'm expected to be on call all the time? Anyone else with this problem?
ASKED: October 5, 2005  10:43 AM
UPDATED: October 25, 2005  11:46 AM

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IT people routinely have to deal with the need to be on-call. Sounds like you are part of a relatively small shop and the boss (with all due respect) likely is more trying to make sure he can get stuff done as opposed to flattering you in any way. If when you were hired there was no mention of being ‘on-call’ then the job description has changed and you should feel free to point this out and request additional compensation. Most companies have it as part of the job description and thus build in the extra hours and incovenience into the salary or specifically put a bonus structure in place to compensate the workers.

On a personnal level, if your wife is objecting there is a problem. Don’t put the job or your duty to work before your duty to your family. Set limits with your boss. Try something like the phone will be on your person between 6am and 7pm. This means you can be reached before most people get to work and for a time after they leave. Any other time, indicate that the phone is likely to go to voice mail and you will make an attempt to check it when possible. There are other jobs out there – but you only have one family.

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  • DrillO
    Hi there.... Yep, welcome to the world of IT. If you are the only one in the department, then yep, you are probably stuck with it. I know this causes problems. If the peration isn't 24/7 then there should not be a problem with setting limits. I agree that this is usually set out in the terms of employent, but I also know that things change. If the boss is being a pain about it, you need to let him know right away that you care but not that much. You know your boss better than any one of us, and it is hard to give this type of advice, but, don't let yourself be taken advantage of either. I know exactly what you are going through. I wear a pager and have a personal Cell phone. No, I will not give my boss or anyone else my phone number. They have to page or email me and I will call when I can. does my boss like this arrangement?.....nope. I am afraid that in most cases, this is part of the business we are in. When things go bad, they need help. The trick is to find the happy medium and only you and your boss can negotiate that one. Yes, there are many good jobs for good people and if the department is large enough then "on call" can rotate. If like me you are a one man operation, you are pretty much stuck with it. Hope this helps. Best, Paul
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  • BlueKnight
    Since the "electronic leash" changes your job from what it was when you were hired, and puts more responsibility on you, your boss should be willing to compensate you. I think Paul mentioned that as well. Meet with the boss and discuss the situation to make sure this is a legitimate business need (like you're the only one that's competent to fix things during off hours - and it's not just a convenience for the boss personally). If the need is legitimate, then he should be agreeable to compensate you for it, but you should also have some time without having the phone glued to your hip. Perhaps there is someone else who could alternate with you... say, you're on call one week, and the other person has the duty the following week. In either case, I think you're entitled to be compensated for the inconvenience of having to carry the company's cell phone wherever you go. I carry a pager paid for by my employer. It stays on the kitchen table while I sleep. If they want me on call 24x7, then they'll tell me and will compensate me something like $2.50-$3.00 per hour during the hours I'm not at work. If I get called in to fix a problem, I get 3 hours OT minimum, whether I work it all or not. Like Paul said, you only have one family. If the cell phone requirement can't be modified to your (and your wife's) liking, then it's time to look for another job. Family has to come first and any good manager will take that into consideration. Good luck. Jim
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  • Naterw
    Being in IT means being on call in most places. However there is a difference between on call because a server has died and on call because your boss needs something. Outside of your normal working hours you should be reachable 24/7 in the event a server has crashed, that's pretty much industry standard. It also can depend on your SLA's and that is probably where I would turn in your situation. Go get your SLA's for all your servers and sit down and look at them, do any of them call for a 24/7 up-time? What's the maximum response time should one go down? If you're just running servers for a small shop where you have a file server and an email server and maybe a web server you probably don't need to be on call 24/7. However, if a server does crash at 12am you need to be ready to get up at 5 or 6am to go in early and fix it before everyone else gets in. The other thing you can do is look into an alterting and monitoring system. NetIQ has a good product for this and so does Microsoft. Install it, show your boss how it works and then convince him that really all you need is a pager so that you know when things break and that he doesn't need to call you to tell you, the system will let you know. If none of that works, consult your local labor laws. Even if you are salaried that doesn't mean you have to work 24/7. You could also work out a non monetary compensation deal with your boss, a comp time situation. For every hour you are working after hours you get to take 1 hour of regular work time off. Use the time immediately the next day by coming in late, or save it up for a free day off.
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  • Bobkberg
    As is often the case, the easy good answers were already taken. Gosh darn you guys!! To lend my emphasis to what all the other good folks have said though - You only have one family, take care of them first. Good managers WILL understand. As to the problem though... As the other folks have pointed out, this should be negotiated with your boss, but let's expand on some of what should be negotiated. Some of this will repeat what others have said, but I'm putting it in one place. 1) Is the business itself 24x7? If so, what aspects? 2) Do you have remote access whether or not any VPN solution is running or not? Do you have high speed access? Possibly your boss can pay for this. 3) Establish a service level agreement (SLA) as to how quickly, and between which hours you'll respond - and for what types of problems. As PaulHinsberg pointed out, you can respond immediately between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., and then promise a two-hour window from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (or whenever you go to bed). 4) Classify the types of incidents to which you will respond. If the business is down (losing productivity) that gets a higher priority than an individual workstation or even some servers. 5) Get monitoring/notification systems in place to send you text messages when key systems fail. Then you'll be forewarned, and may be able to deal with the problem before someone notices later and wakes you up. Just a few suggestions here...The key to it is to figure out most (you'll never get to all) possibilities that impact the business in various ways and then negotiate specific responses (including things you buy), and what response is actually needed. I mention that last because some people treat all outages equally (end of the world) when very few of them actually NEED to be addressed immediately. Please write back and let us know how these arrangements are working out. Bob
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  • Scutch
    Hi, Good point made about remote access, if your boss is very dependant on your system, 24/7 i.e he works himself into the small hours. Then you have other options too! You could organise training for him or some admin staff to help with applications, if it is hardware problems, suggest he looks at a external managed service, e.g. a helpdesk, this external party would need to dial in, it is a bit pricey, but you can sell it to him as a form of insurance. Then you can build up SLA's with this party. Alternatively, it will always demonstrate to him how cheaply you come in comparison to doing it the official way and should stand you in a better position to negotiate something both you and he are happy with. I find Bosses don't like problems only solutions, this way he should respect you seriously want to help him that you have a problem you are trying to find a win win for everyone. If I was your boss and funding was a problem, then I would try to reach an understanding, which will probably still be tricky whilst the understanding is bedding itself in, but I am sure once the rules are laid down it should be workable for all, break each of his problems down into bitesize pieces, and train him to think of alternatives. You must also keep a record and show him improvement, so he gives you the credit you deserve. If he is still very demanding of you and won't consider these other options or indeed find something workable for you too, then you have to look for another job, as your boss is just a bully. Good Luck....
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  • Ve3ofa
    Most problems simply require a reboot.. and there are several products that go into the serial port that enable you to reboot a hung machine (from afar).. Someone being on call 24/7 is normal in a business that is operational 24/7.. Being the only person then since your job has changed and new items have been added you should be compensated for it.. Don't know why the boss is paying for an incoming only cell phone .. a pager is a lot cheaper. Given enough resources you can be paged/sms messaged by the system if there are problems. NetIQ is just one of many solutions. I would negotiate a 3 hour overtime rate per call.. you should also be provided with the tools so that for most problems you can fix the problem without actually having to go onsite. i.e. company provided high speed internet and vpn access just in case. I have no idea of how far your commute is (another item that can be taken into consideration) .. If you have a long commute then you get paid from when you leave your house until you get back (again with a 3 hour minimum per incident/call). This way you ARE available if the business REALLY needs you and your boss will think twice about calling over trivial matters. Local labour laws also apply if you work over 44 hrs/week.. A good server farm rarely needs attention and can go days/months without a problem. General administration can be done via RDP.. Hardware failure is the exception to this rule.. Be glad that you're not one of the 3 people that used to run around inside a mainframe replacing tubes on a 24/7 basis..
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  • DDekreon
    The place I'm in now is a fully IBEW union shop - and that definately made some improvements in the IT area: if you're on call, you're paid; over 8/over 40 hours is overtime; scheduling & requesting leave standardized. It's amazing how many critical things lose their criticality when someone has to pay overtime for them... and they still get done without affecting the business. On the downside: you have to pay dues. On the upside: the medical & retirement is through the union and is *waaaay* better than any corporate health/retirement plan I've ever experienced. Oh, and you do have some protection from the boss' bad home life spilling over into the work place.
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  • MikeyT
    Here's what you need to know, are you a federally exempt employee or not? As a non-exempt employee, you are required to get paid for any time you are working, whether on site or not. As an exempt employee, you get paid for anytime that you work, and OT is then only paid out if part of your company's policies. This, of course, implies that you are here in the States, which may not be the case, but there are local labor laws in every area. If on-call is necessary (which is in most IT departments anymore) then it will be part of your job. Your employer should adequately compensate you for this and add it to your job description (more for future hires than now, but needs to be done). If not, begin searching, with the understanding that most places require some type of on-call for IT personnel. Good luck.
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  • Geekdaddyo
    I work for a small company that is working on a cell phone policy at the moment. But, until things change, the company pays for the cell phone (which I also use for personal use). No pager. I am really against carrying around two devices on my hip. Our unwritten rules are that anyone can call me any time. I may have my cell phone on, or it may be off and transfer to voicemail. But, I check it frequently since it is also my personal cell phone. If there is a problem, I usually VPN in to fix it, if I can, and I get comp time for the hours worked that I can use during regular work hours. I'm salaried, so this seems to work pretty well. We have text messaging setup on our cell phones. We have some of our systems setup to send a message to the cell phone if it is experiencing problems. We hope to have all of our systems setup with this soon. I'm not required to be within a certain distance from work while on call. If I was, then I would want to request some type of on-call compensation. I do have a backup, and he and I usually work things out with our boss about who is in town and who is not. We are both reachable via our cell phones. I should also mention that our systems SLA is anywhere from 4 hours to 2 days depending on the time of month.
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  • MCSGuy
    I think this question is as old as Computers themselves. Having over 35 years of IT experience as both a technician as well as a technical manager, I have been faced with this issue from both sides. What surprises me, is that a lot of managers consider this a normal request to make of an employee, and do not realize the strain it places on one's personal life. I fully understand the requirement for 24/7 support, however it is un-reasonable to expect one person to successfully satisfy the requirement. We all have (and should have!) times and situations where we are simply "unavailable". One should "Work-to-live" not "Live-to-work". If you are Salary, the standard management justification is that they consider your salary to be inclusive of the right to contact you 24/7. This attitude is in-sensitive and an "easy cop-out" for an in-experienced manager. If this was not documented in your Job Description, or your last review, then it NEEDS to be. BOTH PARTIES MUST BE ABSOLUTELY CLEAR on the expectation here, or a future disgruntled employee is brewing. I have successfully argued to some type of "equal time" (Comp time) agreement where each off-hours phone call/incident allows an equal amount of time off during normal hours. Keep in mind that just "Being Available" in itself is worth something! as it regulates your personal time, and what you can do with it. (Hiking in the mountains, wedding receptions, New Years Eve party, Sick time, etc.) Typically, my on-call person gets to set his own hours. If they are that critical, then they should be responsible enough to react to their work requirements - not the clock. (Nobody pays you to "be there" from 9-5. They pay you to get a job done and fix problems). It was not uncommon for me to unexpectedly walk up to my on-call person on a sunny, slow Friday at noon and send them home early. If you are hourly, then you can go after the comp time as above, or you can go for extra compensation for your availability. Keep in mind that Money alone DOES NOT fix the problem. You still have the same responsibility, stress, social requirements as above. It was customary in my shop that people on-call received an extra 4 hours of compensation for a weekend. Call this a "retainer", if you will, that insures your availability. Each call received then counts against that. We would count each call/incident as 1 hour, so if you received 5 calls over the weekend, you received 5 hours pay. 0-4 calls = 4 hours pay. If I had to place someone on-call, I ALWAYS made it an hourly person, so that I could compensate them. I said earlier that money alone DOES NOT fix the problem, and the underlying problem here, is that if you are needed 24/7, and you are the only person, then the company has a severe "depth" problem in the support area, and it is exposing the company to tremendous risk in the event that you are not available in a long-term situation. One look at New Orleans should drive this point home. What can you do??? Well, the simplest, would be to rotate the on-call support, so that no one person is always on-call. Another method that worked very well for me, is to "Tier" the support with multiple levels. The 1st (lowest) level is usually a junior member of the group, or someone in training. They get ALL of the 1st level contacts, and if unable to resolve them, they escalate to higher levels (you!). This at least frees you from the "simple" problems, and reserves your time for issues that REALLY require your expertise. The mere mention of 24Hr on-call, suggests that a Help desk function is lacking or in-effective in your organization. (You become the company's help desk!! - you know this is happening when they ask you to take additional responsibilities outside your area of expertise - e.g. phones, let the carpenter in on Saturday, etc.) DOCUMENT AND TRAIN! People who are on-site to handle as much as possible, in order to minimize the amount of calls you must personally deal with. Document the repetitive fixes so that anyone can do them with the documentation in hand. After all, it's the simple problems that happen repeatedly that really get you frustrated. (Often referred to as "Stupid Calls"). Of course, you could be the type of person who believes this false sense of security (as your wife does) that you are irreplaceable, when in fact, you are screaming that you WANT to be replaceable, so that you can be free to enjoy your personal time. Any executive will tell you that to be successful; you must be able to walk away without impacting the business. TQM methodologies suggest that ANYONE in the organization should be able to drop out without impact. 24Hr Support CAN be done very effectively if done correctly, and can be disastrous if done without consideration to everyone involved. Hope this helps?. http://home.comcast.net/~memays
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  • NoFX39
    I just wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to answer. Over the last two weeks, I interviewed at another place and decided the grass wasn't any greener. I like the idea of having a cell phone policy and am going to suggest it.
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  • Lsholland
    I'm reading through all these comments and they are all right on. 24x7 on call is normal. My question is what is your salary? I'm on call 24x7 with potential for nice bonus at the end of the year if down time is kept bellow a certain threshold. That being the case, I want to be available to fix something immediately. If I can keep downtime below that threshold, that translates to $$ at the end of the year. Work something out. If your making 30k a year, definately not worth it. If you are pulling in six figures, you should be on call 24x7 and not make much stink about it.
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  • Lsholland
    Oh, I wanted to add one more thing to the last thing I said. Your wife should know up front that being in technology sometimes means working at strange hours and durations. The benefits of salary and bonus should make up for it. Otherwise you need to change careers or find a new wife. (I believe the changing careers is the right choice). I just tell my wife I could go flip burgers at McDonalds and have a steady schedule. The trick is to get funding from management to setup the network so it requires little effort from you to keep it running. Work your butt off to get it setup right. Then you won't have to do as much to run the network and you will be compensated for being on call 24x7, even though you are not really needed much 24x7.
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