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Many factory workers have shifts where they have an on-call status, meaning they must be ready to come into work if they are contacted by their employer. Because there isn’t a guarantee that the person will have to work, there is some debate about what is acceptable and what isn’t when you know that your job involves on-call work.

Employers will usually let on-call workers know the expectations for the shift. Read through the handbook, or determine your employer’s on-call work policy to make sure you’re behaving appropriately. And, yes, we know how boring it is to read through a handbook, but this information is critical, and not knowing it could jeopardize your job security.

In addition to your employer’s rules, we have some helpful, basic tips to keep yourself ready for the call.  We hope these tips can help you be successful at work and maintaining an on-call work-life balance.


Remain sober

Whenever you’re on-call for work, there is a chance you will have to drive to work and operate machinery, so you need to make sure that you are fully sober. Avoid alcohol, and even medications that will make you sleepy or out of sorts.

By remaining sober you can protect yourself and your team from possible workplace accidents.  Even if you don’t feel drunk, any slight impairment can put yourself or your coworkers at risk.  As well, if something does happen and you receive a drug/acohold screen that comes back positive you are likely to lose your job due to the impairment.  While this all seems scary and worst-case scenario, these are things you have to consider when you are on-call and expected to report to work.

One other consideration with remaining sober while on-call is that there is no chance of you being pulled over and charged with a DUI on your drive into work.

Get enough sleep

You don’t want to have to struggle through an entire shift tired. If you know that you have an on-call shift coming up, get rest before it starts. You can even use the time that you are waiting for a call to rest. Just make sure that you aren’t too groggy to go if you are called.

Again, this helps with the safety of yourself and your coworkers.  If you are well rested you are less likely to make a mistake that could hurt someone.  It will also just make your shift easier and more enjoyable if you aren’t constantly trying to keep yourself awake.

If you are overly tired during your on-call shift for whatever reason then it is smart to be prepared with your vice of choice to stay awake.  If this is a particular energy drink, try to keep an extra can in your work locker. If it is hot coffee, make a special stop on the way in for a cup.

Stay close

Some employers will require you to remain within a certain distance of the work site if you are on-call. Comply with this on-call work rule so you can arrive on time if you are called. Even if your employer doesn’t have this requirement, it is still a good idea to remain close so you can report as quickly as possible. Relaxing while watching movies at home, finishing household chores or finding things to do around town are great ideas.

You may want to take a look at the calendar every few months to see what holidays or vacations may line up with your on-call shifts (if your shifts are pre-scheduled).  If you see that the Thanksgiving holiday will fall right in the middle of your on-call shift then you may want to make a plan with your family on how you can stay close to home and still enjoy the holiday with them.

Keep your phone handy

If your employer will contact you on your phone, keep it near you at all times. Some employers use older methods, such as pagers, to call workers in. Regardless of the technology, keep that device handy and make sure that you have a way to contact the person who is making the call. Being easily accessible is necessary when you are on-call.

Some considerations with this are to keep your phone charged, in the same place and the ringer volume turned up.  We live in a world where technology is something we use every day and yet it somehow seems to still be unpredictable.  Our battery is drained out of nowhere, we set our phone down then have to hunt to find it or we accidentally set it to silent and miss all our calls and texts.  While these are all excusable accidents for regular life, your employer may not be so understanding when you are on-call so be sure to have your phone or pager at the ready.

Make plans for children

Some on-call workers have children at home. Make a plan to have someone to take care of your children when you are called in. The same is true for pets and any other living creature that require care while you are at work.

This consideration is important both for your employer and your family – you both have something at stake here.  So make a plan that can happen quickly and easily (such as dropping the kids off at Grandma’s on the drive into work or setting out the auto-feeder bowl for Fido when you leave).

Since there is so much as stake in this catagory you may want to discuss the possibility of a missed call-in with your employer.  If you have no care options for your children or you have no one to stay with your aging parent during an on-call shift then you have no choice but to skip the call-in.  You need to be aware of what can happen if you miss a call-in and your employer may be more forgiving if they understand why. Make sure to discuss this potential situation with them and your options to make up the on-call shift or avoid heavy repercussions.

Have your work clothes ready

Get your uniform or work clothes ready in case you are called in. Don’t forget to lay out your shoes and any safety items. This easy, extra preparation can help you make it there more quickly and feel less stressed while you are getting ready.

You are less likely to forget key work equipment (such as a hard hat or safety glasses) and to dress appropriately if you have planned your outfit out beforehand.  For example, if you got dressed right after getting called in, you may be in too much of a frenzy to remember to grab your jacket and gloves in preparation for a cold night.

One other thing we would like to mention, it is also a good idea to find out the pay policies for these on-call shifts. Having a little incentive to behave appropriately during your on-call shift might make it worth it.  Many companies offer overtime pay or adjusted hourly pay (since most on-call shifts are worked on top of your usual work week). This is exactly what you need and want to know if call-out shifts are optional – then you can volunteer for shifts if you would like the extra cash!