Ask LH: Can My Boss Pay Me For After-Hours Work With A Bonus?

Ask LH: Can My Boss Pay Me For After-Hours Work With A Bonus?

I work in IT and my boss is trying to force me to be on-call for after-hours phone support by changing the structure of my bonus, but not offering any more pay. Can he legally do that? Thanks, Unsupported

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Dear Unsupported,

Three thoughts:

  • Legal issues aside, this makes your boss sound like a jerk. Asking someone to take on after-hours support work for nothing more than the promise of a bonus is not the behaviour of someone who actually cares about their employees. Being on-call for support is a fact of life in many IT roles, but both the pay and the other perks (which often include flexible hours and a willingness to ensure support is scheduled evenly between staff) should reflect that. Making it conditional by including it in a bonus seems scabby.
  • The specific legality of this arrangement would depend upon what kind of contract you signed, and whether there’s a relevant award that applies. Many contracts include vague language around ‘other tasks as required’ and may specify that minimum working hours don’t apply. So it’s not necessarily the case that it’s illegal in the strict sense. Again, doesn’t mean it’s not scabby.
  • Honestly, my first reaction would be “start looking for another job”. If that’s not possible, or if you really like this workspace apart from that one issue, then I would make sure that the exact conditions for the bonus are clearly specified in writing before you take on any after-hours support role. A vague promise that you might get a bonus with no details specified leaves you ripe for exploitation.

That’s my take. If readers have their own experience in this area, please help out a fellow pro and share it in the comments.


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  • Make sure that they don’t give you a percentage of the bonus based of what calls you take. If you have to stay home near a computer or not go drinking with your mates because you are on call, then they should be including this even if you don’t end up taking any calls as it is still disrupting your out of work time.

  • Got the same/similar deal – outsourced company from India (just because i needed a “job”)
    Wording of contract was so dodgy I accepted anyway – conditions to work overtime/on-call were “expected” in addition to regular hours. But if they make you do overtime/oncall and there is no reward, take it out as time in lieu since they dont pay for the extra work.
    You have a job and it has limitations – just remember you are replaceable.
    Consider the pros and cons before making any decision.

  • Given as Angus points out it is more than likely in your contract to have either “other duties as required” or “flexible hours required” – It IS a bonus, a token of appreciation for you doing what’s needed rather than what you may prefer..

    If a story breaks at 3am Angus, are you god awfully upset to have to do it? Of course not. Presumably you love your job, and are passionate about doing it.

    As a bonus in your case, I would hope the increased views/clickthroughs would result in you yourself having some kind of profit share agreement (as the editor), which would result in you getting a bonus for such coverage as a trickle down effect.

    In this persons case, if they hate their job, or it’s just a way to get by – there’s probably a better job out there for them – and that’s why they should quit, not because the going is slightly tougher.. At least in my opinion.

    All the same, well written piece Angus, and some very valid points 🙂

  • More than likely the case here is that the manager is trying to get the employee additional financial reward for doing the extra duties. Getting allowances or bonus’s is an easy way to acheive this. In some companies, getting an employee’s pay raised because of additional/new duties can be difficult. This has been the case for me in the past, where I was asked to start taking a company phone on the weekends if there were problems with the servers and I got an allowance each time I had the phone (it was shared with another person).

    • But that’s not a bonus — it’s direct compensation if the issue comes up. Much more appropriate, I’d suggest, as it happens when the work happens, not in an unspecified way in the future.

  • Sounds like an interim solution to a short term problem…

    “Hey employee, we need someone to be on call for the next month because of the unexpected thing over at whatsit. Are you able to help out? It’s only for a month, so we wouldn’t want to go changing your contract, but I’ll pay you a bonus as a sign of appreciation.”

    It’s all about context.

    That aside, I’m pretty sure legally they can’t ask you to do that anyway.

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