I recently asked contractors for comments about how they compensate and manage techs who work on call. I received some interesting feedback.

Many readers offered financial ways to solve this issue. One recommendation is this: Pay techs four hours of regular time as an "on-call bonus." Note that this is not considered part of their regular 40-hour work week. Instead, it's a bonus for being on call. Even if they only actually work 40 hours, they are to be paid for 44 regular hours that week. Now, if they actually work 48 hours, they get 44 hours of regular rate and eight hours of overtime (OT).

(Please note: The individual who submitted this has verified its legality in his state. However, always check with your CPA or an attorney before trying any nonstandard methods of paying hourly employees.)

Another respondent said he pays four hours at OT rate for the tech on call, regardless of whether he has any calls that weekend or not. This respondent also stated that he pays OT based on an eight-hour day, as opposed to a 40-hour week.

Another suggested a commission or bonus of 10 percent of gross sales to techs who are on call. In his estimation, the higher emergency fee that is charged offsets the expense.

A fair number of respondents said they give the difference between their regular time service fee (often referred to as "dispatch fee" or "trip charge") and their OT diagnostic fee to their techs. For example, when the regular service fee is $59, and the OT diagnostic is $89, for each OT call, the tech would get $30 on top of his OT rate per hour.

Then again, most respondents said they pay their techs a flat fee, ranging from a low of $40 per month for standby time to $50 per week when they're on call. One company spiffs techs $100 for every billable emergency call they run outside of normal business hours.

There are also those who provide nonfinancial incentives. One respondent said he gives the following Friday off so the tech has a three-day weekend to enjoy. (This also saves the company the overtime expense.)

At one company, techs accrue 5 hours of vacation pay for each standby period. They say this helps solve the problem of providing vacation benefits, as now it is tied to performing and taking after-hours duties.

Call Load, Tech Rotation

In regard to dealing with and managing the call load, one respondent noted that his customer service reps and managers rotate this duty, accepting late-night and weekend phone calls to triage the needs and determine the schedule. In the end, explained this contractor, this process allows techs to focus on the clients they're with, rather than worry about all the calls that may be coming in.

One respondent said he has a 24-hour answering service that records all incoming calls. In this case, the technician can then dial a special phone number, allowing him to replay the recorded calls.

Yet another respondent wrote: "Our warranty coverage is during the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. When customers insist on having a tech out on OT rates, they pay a flat fee of $50.00. The customer is told that the office will review the payment the next business day. This money is returned to the customer if there was a warranty issue, but the night and weekend nuisance calls went away. Techs really appreciate that!"

Regarding the matter of managing the rotation of techs, the best suggestion is to post a whole year's schedule in advance. Of course, any employee that leaves or is let go will cause a change in the rotations. At this point, one might ask for volunteers or sweeten the pot with compensation to entice volunteers. If there are no takers, then the rotation is simply bumped up.

When a change needs to be made, a two-week warning should be the norm. Employees unable to cover their weekend must find their own replacement, too, said most respondents.

Overtime and odd hours are a necessary evil in our industry. Thanks to those who shared their ideas here. And, of course, if you're doing something that works and are willing to share it with the rest of us, e-mail me and I'll put it in a future column.

Guest columnist Charlie Greer is the creator of "Tec Daddy's Service Technician Survival School on DVD" and can be reached at 800-963-4822 or charlie@hvacprofitboosters.com.

Publication date: 03/08/2004