It's often said that time is money, but don't count on scoring a few extra bucks just because you spend your free time waiting for tech support calls. In the wake of last year's lay offs, many techies were assigned extra duties, like carrying a pager so they can respond to after-hours issues. This growing phenomenon prompted questions from IT professionals about compensation for standby time on the Dice Discussions board. Although an estimated 44 percent of all companies offer standby pay, whether you can qualify requires a close examination of your specific circumstances, because a number of criteria must be met before you are entitled to compensation.

Even the U.S. Department of Labor acknowledges that there are no standard methods for evaluating a claim. Here's how the DOL Web site describes the decision making process for standby pay.

Whether hours spent on-call is hours worked is a question of fact to be decided on a case-by-case basis. All on-call time is not hours worked.

On call pay is regulated by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which specifies that exempt employees, who can use wait time for their own purposes, usually don't qualify for on call pay, unless they can prove that their on call duties are encroaching upon their personal lives. It might be worth investigating local or state laws, because they may take precedence over the federal law. If all else fails, the best way to receive extra compensation might be to track the interruptions and then negotiate a deal with your employer. Consider this definition from the DOL site when documenting disruptive events.

The other consideration in determining whether you can use the on-call time for your own purposes is the frequency of the work calls you receive during your on-call time. If your on-call time is interrupted to such an extent that you cannot conduct your regular activities, you probably cannot use the on-call time for your own purposes. For example, if you are unable to finish a meal, read a story to your child or read a newspaper during the same on-call period, you probably cannot use the time effectively for your own purposes.

While the DOL may not provide a magic bullet for workers seeking on call pay, it does offer a handy online tool which can help you determine your chances. As you answer each question, the tool ascertains whether standby pay is warranted, and taking the survey will help you understand the qualifying criteria, so you can document your activities and possibly negotiate a stipend from your employer.

Log the number of calls you receive, the time it takes to resolve issues and instances where you had to drop what you were doing to respond to a call. Survey local companies to see if they provide on call pay, so you can leverage that information during negotiations. If you are unsuccessful securing on-call pay, at least ask for comp time, especially when your evening or weekend is marred by frequent calls.

-- Leslie Stevens-Huffman