Firefighters across the country are fighting back against wage violations, filing overtime lawsuits and pursuing back wages and other forms of compensation in court. State courts in multiple jurisdictions have seen a steady stream of lawsuits filed by first responders, including police officers, EMT professionals and now, firefighters and dispatchers.
In their lawsuits, the responders allege violations of state labor law and the Fair Labor Standards Act, a sweeping federal law that governs minimum wage and overtime pay in America.
Florida Firefighters Allege Overtime Violations In New Lawsuit
In the latest case, a group of six Florida battalion chiefs from the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District say they’re owed a combined $360,000 for alleged overtime violations committed over the last three years. Court documents suggest that each battalion chief has been underpaid to the tune of $20,000 per year since 2015.
The lawsuit, as reported by WINK News, asserts that the chiefs each work about 53 hours a week, which is well above the 40-hour week outlined in federal and state overtime law.
The Fair Labor Standards Act & Overtime Rules
The Fair Labor Standards Act provides that most employees become entitled to “premium” overtime wage for any hours worked beyond 40 in a single week. But the battalion chiefs say they haven’t been paid correctly in years. In their lawsuit, the first responders allege that their fire district has been paying them the regular hourly rate for overtime hours.
The battalion chiefs earn a salary; they are paid a consistent and recurring amount of money for their work, rather than an hourly wage. The lawsuit claims that the fire district has misclassified the firefighters as executive and administrative employees.
City Misclassified Battalion Chiefs As Exempt, Lawsuit Claims
Some jobs are exempt from overtime pay; at the top of that list are executive and administrative positions. Normally, executive workers manage the tasks of other employees and have a real impact on hiring and firing decisions. Administrators, on the other hand, perform non-manual office work that is essential to the business operations of their employer.
Both positions require a degree of independent judgment, an independent streak that allows employees to analyze multiple courses of action and choose among them.
According to court documents, the battalion chiefs have been classified as executive and administrative employees. Traditionally, that would make the firefighters exempt from overtime wages, and their employer would not be obligated to pay them overtime.
The firefighters say this classification scheme is a mistake. In their lawsuit, the workers say they should be considered non-exempt employees, who are generally entitled to overtime pay. The battalion chiefs claim that, like any other firefighter, they are required to train and respond to emergencies.
Court Hears Challenge Of Firefighter Classification Scheme
Whether or not these claims hold water is a question for the court to decide. Employment classification determinations are intensely fact-specific. The case hinges on whether the battalion chiefs are actually executive and administrative workers, so the court will be required to perform an exhaustive analysis of their actual job tasks.
One of the workers also claims workplace retaliation. The battalion chief says he wrote a formal complaint to his supervisors about the unpaid overtime wages and was suspended shortly afterward.
Louisville Firefighters Win $100,000 Jury Verdict
In related news, the city of Louisville, Kentucky has been ordered to pay a group of 17 firefighters and dispatchers over $100,000 in unpaid overtime wages. As in Florida, the first responders argued in court documents that they had been underpaid for years of labor. In their lawsuit, the firefighters argued that they had routinely worked 56-hour weeks, but were not paid an overtime wage for the extra 16 hours.
The lawsuit was initially filed over 18 years ago. At one time, the suit represented the claims of 75 firefighters and dispatchers, but 58 of the plaintiffs were dismissed from the case. The case was heard by a jury in Louisville. According to WDRB, the city has already paid out millions of dollars in settlements to hundreds of firefighters who alleged similar violations of federal and state labor law.