HR Management & Compliance

Wildfires Tax Local Fire Departments, Raise Wage and Hour Challenges

Higher than normal temperatures and dry conditions have fueled significant numbers of fires this wildfire season, particularly in the Western United States. Wage and hour issues may be far from the first concern for state and local agencies and communities preparing for, or dealing with, wildfires, but it behooves savvy municipalities to think about possible staffing and overtime challenges.

According to local news reports, city firefighters in Colorado Springs, near the Waldo Canyon fire, could end up running an overtime tab of up to $4 million by the time the blaze is finished.

Massive wildfires typically result in an “all hands on deck” situation, which could lead to some confusion over who is considered a firefighter. It’s an important definition to get right: under the Fair Labor Standards Act firefighter overtime is calculated differently.

Under a special provision applicable only in the public sector, firefighters and police officers are partially exempt from FLSA’s overtime requirements. In essence, qualifying employees can work more hours over a longer period before they are entitled to overtime pay under this specific provision. Qualifying fire protection employees can work 212 hours in a 28-day period.

To qualify for the partial exemption an employee must meet the following criteria: be trained in fire suppression; have the legal authority and responsibility to engage in fire suppression; be employed by a fire department of a municipality, county, fire district or state; and be engaged in the prevention, control, and extinguishment of fires or response to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk.

For more information on wage and hour issues, check out Thompson Publishing Group’s new HR Compliance eXpert.


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