Tag Archives: Firefighters

6th Cir.: Purportedly “Volunteer” Firefighters, Paid Per Call as Independent Contractors, Are “Employees” Under FLSA

Mendel v. City of Gibraltar

This case was before the Sixth Circuit, following the district court’s order granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Although the case concerned the issue of whether the defendant-City met the prerequisite for FMLA coverage (number of employees), the issue considered by the Sixth Circuit was “purportedly volunteer firefighters who receive a substantial hourly wage for responding to calls whenever they choose to do so are “employees” or “volunteers” for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).” The Sixth Circuit held that the firefighters at issue were employees rather than volunteers, such that the defendant met the number of employee requirement to trigger FMLA coverage.

The Sixth Circuit laid out the following facts relevant to its inquiry of whether the firefighters were properly deemed to be employees or volunteers:

The volunteer firefighters of Gibraltar must complete training on their own time without compensation.  While they are not required to respond to any emergency call, they are paid $15 per hour for the time they do spend responding to a call or maintaining equipment. They do not work set shifts or staff a fire station; they maintain other employment and have no consistent schedule working as volunteer firefighters.  The firefighters generally receive a Form–1099 MISC from the City. They do not receive health insurance, sick or vacation time, social security benefits, or premium pay. The City does have an employment application for the firefighters, and it apparently keeps a personnel file for each firefighter. A volunteer firefighter may be promoted or discharged.  [The Plaintiff] introduced evidence below of what several other local communities pay their full-time firefighters. According to his wife’s affidavit, she and Mendel discovered that certain other communities in the area pay hourly wages ranging from approximately $14 to $17 per hour. Also, the City pays its own part-time Fire Chief $20,000 per year, and the Chief testified in his deposition that he “tr[ies] to work 20 hours per week at the [Gibraltar] fire station.” Based on this information, the Secretary of Labor notes in her amicus brief that if one assumes the Fire Chief works fifty-two weeks per year, he effectively earns $19.23 per hour.

After explaining that the FMLA’s definition of “employees” incorporates the FLSA’s definition, the Court then examined the issue under the FLSA. Holding that the firefighters were employees and not volunteers, the Court explained:

Here, it appears that the Gibraltar firefighters fall within the FLSA’s broad definition of employee. The firefighters are suffered or permitted to work, see
29 U.S.C. § 203(g), and they even receive substantial wages for their work.

This is not the end of our analysis, however. In 1986, Congress amended the FLSA to clarify that individuals who volunteer to perform services for a public agency are not employees under the Act. Section 203(e) now includes the following provision:

The term “employee” does not include any individual who volunteers to perform services for a public agency which is a State, a political subdivision of a State, or an interstate governmental agency, if—

(i) the individual receives no compensation or is paid expenses, reasonable benefits, or a nominal fee to perform the services for which the individual volunteered; and

(ii) such services are not the same type of services which the individual is employed to perform for such public agency.

29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(4)(A).

Thus, the question becomes whether the Gibraltar firefighters fall within this exception to the FLSA’s generally broad definition of “employee.” Specifically, the question before us is whether the wages paid to the firefighters constitute “compensation” or merely a “nominal fee.” If the hourly wages are compensation, then the firefighters are employees under the FLSA. Conversely, if the wages are merely a nominal fee, then the firefighters are volunteers expressly excluded from the FLSA’s definition of employee.

The official regulations provide guidance at this juncture. The regulations define “volunteer” as “[a]n individual who performs hours of service for a public agency for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.101(a); see also 29 C.F.R. § 553.104(a) (employing similar language). The regulations proceed to recognize, “Volunteers may be paid expenses, reasonable benefits, a nominal fee, or any combination thereof, for their service without losing their status as volunteers.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.106(a). The specific provision addressing nominal fees provides, in part, “A nominal fee is not a substitute for compensation and must not be tied to productivity. However, this does not preclude the payment of a nominal amount on a ‘per call’ or similar basis to volunteer firefighters.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.106(e). Finally, the regulations caution, “Whether the furnishing of expenses, benefits, or fees would result in individuals’ losing their status as volunteers under the FLSA can only be determined by examining the total amount of payments made (expenses, benefits, fees) in the context of the economic realities of the particular situation.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.106(f).

In the context of the economic realities of this particular situation, we hold that the hourly wages paid to the Gibraltar firefighters are not nominal fees, but are compensation under the FLSA. The firefighters do not receive “a nominal amount on a ‘per call’ or similar basis.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.106(e). Rather, they render services with the promise, expectation, and receipt of substantial compensation. See 29 C.F.R. §§ 553.101(a), 553.104(a). Each time a firefighter responds to a call, he knows he will receive compensation at a particular hourly rate—which happens to be substantially similar to the hourly rates paid to full-time employed firefighters in some of the neighboring areas. Essentially, the Gibraltar firefighters are paid a regular wage for whatever time they choose to spend responding to calls. These substantial hourly wages simply do not qualify as nominal fees. Cf. Purdham v. Fairfax Cnty. Sch. Bd., 637 F.3d 421, 433–34 (4th Cir.2011) (holding that a School Board’s payment of a fixed stipend to a golf coach was a nominal fee where: (1) the stipend amount did not change based on either how much time and effort the coach expended on coaching activities or how successful the team was; and (2) the approximate hourly rate to which the coach’s stipend could be converted was only a fraction (less than¼) of the hourly wage he received as a full-time security assistant employed by the School Board).

Notably, the Supreme Court has held that those who “work in contemplation of compensation” are “employees” within the meaning of the FLSA, even though they may view themselves as “volunteers.” Tony & Susan Alamo Found., 471 U.S. at 300–02, 306, 105 S.Ct. 1953. Despite the fact that the Gibraltar firefighters are referred to as “volunteers,” the inescapable fact nevertheless remains that they “work in contemplation of compensation.” Thus, the Gibraltar firefighters are “employees” and not “volunteers” within the meaning of the FLSA. See Krause v. Cherry Hill Fire Dist. 13, 969 F.Supp. 270, 277 (D.N.J.1997) (“In view of the fact that the plaintiffs [firefighters] both expected and received hourly compensation, in an amount greater than a ‘nominal’ fee, it is clear that plaintiffs were not volunteers….”).

Finally, the Court rejected the defendant’s contention—apparently adopted by the court below, that the firefighters were not “employees” under the FLSA, because they fell within the purview of 207(y).

Thus, the Court concluded “under the relevant authority and the facts of this case, we are constrained to hold that, simply put, the substantial wages paid to these firefighters constitute compensation, not nominal fees, which makes the Gibraltar firefighters employees, not volunteers, for purposes of the FLSA and FMLA.”

Click Mendel v. City of Gibraltar to read the entire Opinion. Click DOL Amicus Brief, to read the DOL’s Brief in support of the Plaintiff-Appellant, relied upon in part by the Court.

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N.D.Cal.: “Annual Leave” Buy-Back, Consisting of Both Vacation and Sick Leave, Need Not Be Included in Regular Rate (or OT) Calculations

Balisteri v. Menlo Park Fire Protection Dist.

This case was before the court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs asserted 2 distinct claims: one for time spent donning and doffing their firefighter uniforms for temporary assignment, and one based on their assertion that defendant erred in failing to include payments made for buy-back of “Annual Leave” in their regular rates (and corresponding overtime rates). As discussed here, the court granted the defendant’s motion and held that the “Annual Leave” buy-back need not be included in the calculation of plaintiffs’ regular rate, while denying plaintiffs’ motion. In so doing the court distinguished the case from others reaching the opposite conclusion regarding a similar issue.

The court framed the issue as follows:

Plaintiffs’ second claim alleges that Defendant violated the FLSA by failing to include Annual Leave buy-backs for unused “sick leave” in their regular rate of pay which, in turn, negatively affected their overtime pay. The FLSA requires employers to pay their employees overtime based on one and a half times the employee’s “regular rate” for hours worked in excess of 40 hours a week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(2)(c). The “regular rate” of pay “at which an employee is employed shall be deemed to include all remuneration for employment paid to, or on behalf of, the employee,” subject to certain enumerated exceptions. Id. § 207(e). One exception is for payments made for periods when no work is performed. Id. § 207(e)(2). The exception states that the regular rate should not include:

Payments for occasional periods when no work is performed due to vacation, holiday, illnesses, failure of the employer to provide sufficient work, or other similar cause …; and other similar payments to an employee which are not made as compensation for his hours of employment.

Id. (emphasis added). The regulations implementing this exclusion reiterate that when an employee is not at work due to vacation or illness but nonetheless is paid, said payment need not be used in calculating the employee’s regulate or overtime rate of pay. 29 C.F.R. § 778.218(a). The exclusion also applies when an employee foregoes a vacation but still receives vacation pay in addition to his or her customary pay for all hours worked. Id. § 779.218(a); see Chavez v. City of Albuquerque, 630 F.3d 1300, 1307–309 (10th Cir.2011) (citing, inter alia, 29 C.F.R § 779.218(a) and holding that “vacation buy back-payments are not part of the regular rate.”).

Discussing the relevant law, the court explained:

The Ninth Circuit has not yet addressed the issue of whether buy-back compensation for unused sick leave must be included in an employee’s regular rate for purposes of the FLSA, and other circuits are split on the issue. In Featsent v. City of Youngstown, 70 F.3d 900 (6th Cir.1995), the Sixth Circuit held that a cash-out for unused sick leave is not pay for hours worked, and need not be included in the employee’s regular rate. Id. at 905. The court reasoned that “awards for nonuse of sick leave are similar to payments made when no work is performed due to illness, which may be excluded from the regular rate” under 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(2). Id. In contrast, the Eighth Circuit in Acton v. Columbia, 436 F.3d 969 (8th Cir.2006) reached the opposite conclusion. In its analysis, the Acton court relied on 29 U.S.C. § 207(e), which requires money paid for general or specific work-related duties to be included in the regular rate of pay. Id. at 976–77. Noting that “the primary effect of the buy-back program is to encourage firefighters to come to work regularly over a significant period of their employment tenure,” the court concluded that work attendance was a specific work-related duty and that the buy-back payments must be included as remuneration for employment. Id. at 977.

Following Action, as well as a Department of Labor interpretive bulletin, the Tenth Circuit in Chavez held that sick leave buy-backs—but not vacation buy-backs—must be included in the regular rate. 630 F.3d at 1309;
see U.S. Dept. of Labor, Wage and Hour Opinion Letter FLSA–2009–10, dated Jan. 16, 2009,
2009 WL 649021. The Chavez court explained this distinction as follows:

To be sure, both vacation and sick leave buy-back reward attendance, in some sense, because they reward an employee for not taking days off. The key difference lies in the way each type of day off operates. A sick day is usually unscheduled or unexpected, and is a burden because the employer must find last-minute coverage for the sick employee. In contrast, vacation days are usually scheduled in advance, so their use does not burden the employer in the way that unscheduled absences do. An employee has a duty not to abuse sick days, whereas there is no corresponding duty not to use vacation days. Buying back sick days rewards an employee for consistent and as-scheduled attendance, which are the aspects of good attendance that provide additional value to an employer. Thus, sick leave buy-backs are compensation for additional service or value received by the employer, and are analogous to attendance bonuses. In contrast, payments for non-use of vacation days are analogous to holiday work premiums or bonuses for working particular undesirable days.

Id. at 1309–1310.

Rejecting plaintiffs’ assertion that the payments at issue must be included in the regular rate calculations and distinguishing out-of-circuit case law, the court reasoned:

Plaintiffs urge the Court to follow Acton and Chavez and to find that the District’s buy-backs under its Annual Leave program should have been included in Plaintiff’s regular rate. The Court disagrees. Both of those cases involved dedicated buy-back programs specifically for sick time. This case is different. The District no longer separates sick leave from vacation time. Rather, the District now maintains an Annual Leave program which makes no distinction between vacation or sick time when time is withdrawn from the Annual Leave Bank. As discussed, under the terms of the governing MOU, Annual Leave accrues pursuant to separate formulas for “sick leave” and “vacation.” MOU § 10.1 & Ex. B. However, once sick leave and vacation time have accrued, they are deposited into an Annual Leave Bank. Once in the Annual Leave Bank, the employee’s accrued time is simply treated as Annual Leave, which can be used for both unscheduled and scheduled absences. In other words, an employee may use his or her Annual Leave without regard to the reason the employee is taking time off. Thus, unlike the sick leave buy-back program in Chavez, the District’s buy-back of annual leave does not “reward[ ] an employee for consistent and as-scheduled attendance” and is not “analogous to attendance bonuses.” 630 F.3d at 1309–310.

The court rejected plaintiffs argument regarding the significance of the fact that under the MOU, leave time accrues separately on either the vacation or sick leave schedule, and that when time is debited from the Annual Leave Bank, it is classified as either “annual level scheduled” or “annual leave unscheduled.” The court also questioned the significance of the fact that the hours accrued at the vacation rate are segregated into an Annual Leave Restricted Bank until they can be scheduled and used. Because no deductions could be made from the Annual Leave Restricted Bank nor does the District buy-back any leave in that bank. Id. Instead, only at the end of the calendar year in which the leave accrued are those hours are rolled in the Annual Leave Bank where they can be used for any purpose. Finally, the court dismissed plaintiffs argument that, as a practical matter, the “vast majority” of them use their Annual Leave for scheduled absences, meaning that any leftover hours cashed-out are, in effect, for sick leave, due to the lack of evidence in support of this proposition.

Click Balisteri v. Menlo Park Fire Protection Dist. to read the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, and Denying Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment.

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D.Mass.: Personal Day Buy-Back, Yearly Sick Day Incentive Pay, Yearly Sick Leave Buy-Back Pay And Sick Leave Buy-Back Upon Separation Must Be Included In Officers’ “Regular Rate” Under The FLSA

Lemieux v. City of Holyoke

This case was before the Court on several cross-motions regarding a variety of issues arising from the application of various principles of the FLSA.  As discussed here, the Court determined that several types of incentive and “buy-back” pay necessarily had to be included in the plaintiffs’ “regular rate” of pay (and resulting overtime rates).

Discussing the issue of whether such pay need be included in the plaintiff-employees regular rate of pay under the FLSA, the Court held:

“Because the FLSA requires overtime compensation to be paid at “a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which [an employee] is employed,” 29 U.S.C. § 207(a), “[c]alculation of the correct ‘regular rate’ is the linchpin of the FLSA overtime requirement.” O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 294. Under the terms of the CBA, Holyoke firefighters, in certain circumstances, are entitled to receive augments to their base salary. At issue is whether the FLSA requires Defendants to include eight of these contractual remunerations-yearly personal day buy-back; yearly sick day incentive pay; yearly sick leave buy-back pay; sick leave buy-back upon retirement, resignation, or death; vacation buy-back upon retirement; yearly holiday pay; detail pay; and Student Awareness of Fire Education (“SAFE”) pay-in Plaintiffs’ “regular rate” for the purpose of calculating overtime compensation. Plaintiffs argue that the statute requires this; Defendants argue that it does not.

The FLSA defines “regular rate” to include “all remuneration for employment paid to, or on behalf of, the employee” unless it falls under one of the eight expressly provided exclusions listed in paragraphs (1) through (8) of subsection (e) of the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(1)-(8). This “list of exceptions is exhaustive, the exceptions are to be interpreted narrowly against the employer, and the employer bears the burden of showing that an exception applies.” O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 294 (citations omitted).

For the reasons that follow, the court holds that Defendants are obligated to include yearly personal day buy-back, yearly sick day incentive pay, yearly sick leave buy-back pay, and sick leave buy-back upon retirement, resignation, or death in the officers’ “regular rate” under the FLSA.

a. Buy-Back Provisions.

The CBA entitles Holyoke firefighters, subject to certain conditions, to sell back to the city sick leave time, vacation time, personal time, and holiday time that they have accrued but not used. Plaintiffs argue that the city is required to include the value of these “buy-backs” in the “regular rate” because they are renumeration not falling under any of the exceptions listed in 207(e)(1)-(8). Defendants contend that none of these buy-backs are paid as compensation for Holyoke firefighters’ hours of employment, and that they are all, therefore, excludable under section 207(e)(2).

Section 207(e)(2) provides that “payments made for occasional periods when no work is performed due to vacation, holiday, illness, … or other similar cause; … [or] other similar payments to an employee which are not made as compensation for his hours of employment” are excludable from the “regular rate.” 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(2). It is plain that the value of the accrued time in dispute, if utilized by the firefighters for its intended purpose, would be excluded under 207(e)(2). The question before the court is whether a lump sum payment, keyed to time accrued for the causes listed in section 207(e)(2), although paid later under a buy-back program, is also excludable under that section.

i. Holiday and vacation time buy-back.

As to payments for accrued holiday and vacation time, the law is clear that these payments are excludable under section 207(e)(2) regardless of whether they are paid contemporaneously for days missed or are deferred and paid in a lump sum. Department of Labor Regulations explicitly provide that the 207(e)(2) exclusion applies even when an employee foregoes a day off but still receives the pay. 29 C.F.R. § 778.219(a). Accordingly, holiday and vacation buy-back payments are excluded under section 207(e)(2) and need not be included in the regular rate under the FLSA.

ii. Personal time buy-back.

Similarly, buy-back payments for personal time are excludable from the regular rate under the FLSA. Personal time, like holiday and vacation time, is paid idle time which, subject to scheduling restrictions, may be used by firefighters at their discretion as a matter of right. Therefore, personal time buy-back payments are excludable under section 207(e)(2). 29 C.F.R. § 778.219(a).

However, one wrinkle remains. Under the terms of the CBA, unused personal time is cashed in at one hundred and ten percent (110%) of that year’s rate. (CBA ¶ 33.0(D)). It appears that this ten percent premium represents an incentive bonus for employees who forego taking personal days. Because the express terms of CBA make this ten percent bonus non-discretionary, see id. (“[t]he payout shall occur in January of the following year”), it must be included in the “regular rate” under the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 7(e)(3)(a); 29 C.F.R. 778.211(c). See also Walling v. Harnischfeger Corp., 325 U.S. 427, 431 (U.S.1945) (noting that employees “who receive incentive bonuses in addition to their guaranteed base pay clearly receive a greater regular rate than the minimum base rate”).

iii. Sick leave buy-back.

The slightly more difficult question concerns whether remuneration in the form of buy-back payments for unused sick leave time is includable in the “regular rate” under the FLSA. Article 11 of the CBA provides Holyoke firefighters with three opportunities to sell accrued but unused sick leave time back to the city. Unlike vacation and holiday time, the Department of Labor regulations do not address whether section 207(e)(2) excludes the value of deferred sick leave time from the FLSA’s regular rate. See 29 C.F.R. § 778.219(a) (discussing only vacation and holiday pay).

In a closely analogous case, however, the Eighth Circuit has held that “sick leave buy-back monies constitute remuneration for employment” because “in contrast to § 207(e)(2) payments, [they] are awarded to employees for coming to work consistently, not for work that was never performed.” Acton v. City of Columbia, 436 F.3d 969, 977 (8th Cir.2006). In so holding, the Acton court reasoned that “the primary effect of the buy-back program is to encourage firefighters to come to work regularly over a significant period of their employment tenure” and concluded that the buy-back payments awarded to employees for not using accrued sick leave were akin to non-discretionary bonuses that compensated them for fulfilling their general attendance duties. Id. at 979.

This interpretation has not been adopted by all courts. The Sixth Circuit, in a case cited by Defendants, has come to the opposite conclusion, holding simply that “awards for nonuse of sick leave are similar to payments made when no work is performed due to illness, which may be excluded from the regular rate [under 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(2) ].” Featsent v. City of Youngstown, 70 F.3d 900, 905 (6th Cir.1995). The First Circuit, for its part, has yet to weigh in on the issue.

Having considered all of the available authority, the court finds the reasoning of Acton persuasive. Here, as in Acton, firefighters must have worked for a period of time sufficient to accumulate a certain amount of leave in order to qualify for buy-back pay. Moreover, by its own terms, the CBA refers to its various sick leave buy-back provisions as “incentive days” and “sick leave buy back bonuses.” These facts militate toward the conclusion that sick leave buy-back payments provided for in the CBA are more akin to non-discretionary incentive bonuses includable under 29 C.F.R. 778.211(c) than remuneration for work that was never performed and therefore excludable under 207(e)(2). See 29 C.F.R. 778.211 (expressly including “[a]ttendance bonuses” in the regular rate of pay). It is also pertinent that this position has been adopted by the Department of Labor in a 2009 wage and hour opinion letter, 2009 DOLWH LEXIS 23 (DOLWH 2009). Finally, the court finds this position to be the most consistent with the First Circuit’s gloss on section 207(e), that its “exceptions are to be interpreted narrowly against the employer….” O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 294.

For these reasons, the court finds that sick leave buy-back pay is remuneration that must be included in the calculation of the FLSA regular rate of pay.

b. Off Duty/Detail pay.

In addition to their regular duties, some Plaintiffs perform additional outside work-referred to as “details” or “off-duty work”-that is assigned to them on a voluntary basis when they are not regularly scheduled to be on duty. The FLSA is clear that “special detail” compensation for hours worked on behalf of “separate and independent” employers is excludable from the calculation of FLSA overtime. 29 U.S.C. § 207(p). Department of Labor regulations specify that the hours worked for another entity will be exempt under § 207(p)(1)‘s special detail work exemption so long as (1) the special detail assignment is undertaken and performed solely at the employee’s option, and (2) the two employers are “in fact separate and independent.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.227(b). See also Nolan v. City of Chicago, 125 F.Supp.2d 324, 336 (N.D.Ill.2000).

Plaintiffs do not dispute that a Holyoke firefighter’s decision to perform off-duty detail work is purely voluntary. Their sole contention is that the outside vendors for whom they perform duty work are not, in fact, separate and independent because: (1) when firefighters perform duty work, they receive payment via their regular payroll check; (2) the amount of pay received by firefighters for detail work is non-negotiable (except by the Union during collective bargaining); (3) firefighters do not receive insurance benefits or retirement benefits, or worker’s compensation from the third-party vendors; and (4) firefighters are required to wear their uniforms while working detail or off duty.

Each of these assertions, however, is contrary to the applicable Department of Labor regulations which provide:

The primary employer may facilitate the employment or affect the conditions of employment of such employees. For example, a police department may maintain a roster of officers who wish to perform such work. The department may also select the officers for special details from a list of those wishing to participate, negotiate their pay, and retain a fee for administrative expenses. The department may require that the separate and independent employer pay the fee for such services directly to the department, and establish procedures for the officers to receive their pay for the special details through the agency’s payroll system. Finally, the department may require that the officers observe their normal standards of conduct during such details and take disciplinary action against those who fail to do so.  29 C.F.R. § 553.227(d) (emphasis added).

Accordingly, the FLSA does not require that Plaintiffs’ “detail” work be included in the calculation of the regular rate of pay.

c. Student Awareness of Fire Education (“SAFE”) Pay.

Some Holyoke firefighters receive pay for fire prevention and education duties performed under the grant-funded Student Awareness of Fire Education (“SAFE”) program. SAFE work performed while a firefighter is on regularly scheduled duty is compensated at the standard contractual rate of pay, while SAFE work performed outside of a firefighter’s regular duty cycle is compensated as overtime at one and one half times the contractual rate of pay. (Dkt. No. 157, Ex. D, LaFond Dep. 37: 8-18.

Here, to the degree that SAFE payments represent additional remuneration at all (i.e., to the degree that they are not already included in Plaintiffs’ regular pay), they are excludable from the regular rate under sections 207(e)(5) and (7) of the FLSA. Each of these provisions permits employers to exclude properly compensated overtime payments from the “regular rate” of pay under the FLSA. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(5) (excluding “extra compensation provided by a premium rate paid for certain hours … in excess of the employee’s normal working hours or regular working hours”); 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(7) (excluding time and a half compensation “for work outside of the hours established in good faith by the contract or agreement as the basic, normal, or regular workday”). See also 29 C.F.R. 778.202. Because, as the record demonstrates, SAFE work performed outside of a firefighter’s regular duty cycle is already compensated as overtime, the FLSA does not require that Defendants include such time in the calculation of the FLSA’s regular rate of pay.”

Although the Court addressed issues that rarely come up in the context of FLSA litigation, its reliance on the general principle that any type of compensation not specifically excluded from calculating an employee’s regular rate under the FLSA must necessarily be included is instructive to employers who use any type of incentive or bonus pay.

Click Lemieux v. City of Holyoke to read the entire opinion.

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11th Cir.: “Dual Assignment” Regulation Still In Full Affect; Whether An Employee With Police And Fire Duties Is Entitled To Overtime Based On Which Duties Take Up Majority Of Working Time

Cremeens v. City of Montgomery

The Appellants, fire investigators for the City of Montgomery’s fire department, appealed the dismissal via summary judgment of their collective action seeking overtime pay from the city.  Their appeal raised the question of the continuing validity of the Department of Labor’s dual assignment regulation, which addresses overtime for firefighters who perform law enforcement duties.  The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the regulation remains valid and therefore, reversed the judgment of the district court.

In addition to describing the Plaintiff’s firefighting duties and fire suppression training, the Court explained that, “Fire investigators investigate fires involving loss of life, arson and other crimes, and multiple fire alarms. They gather physical evidence, interview witnesses, interrogate suspects, and testify in court. They have the power to make arrests without first calling the Montgomery police department. Candidates for the job of fire investigator must graduate from state and national fire investigation academies; graduate from the Montgomery police academy; and be certified by the state as a peace officer. Candidates also must pass continuing education and firearms qualifications.”  Thus, the record demonstrated that Plaintiffs perform both police duties and firefighting duties.

Reasoning that the “Dual Assignment” Rule continued in full effect, notwithstanding the revised definition of those engaged in firefighting duties (and thus exempt), the Court explained:

“Similarly, because the plain language of the dual assignment regulation does not purport to alter § 203(y)’s definition of an employee engaged in fire protection activities, it skirts the province of § 203(y) and does not conflict with it. The simpler reading of the dual assignment regulation is that it dictates how to apply the overtime rules to those employees who have already satisfied the definitions both for fire protection and law enforcement. The dual assignment regulation does no defining. It is fair to say that while § 203(y) defines, the dual assignment regulation applies.

This analysis explains why our well-reasoned precedents in Huff and Gonzalez do not control here. For one, neither of those cases addressed the dual assignment regulation. Rather, those cases held that the regulatory definition of fire protection activities and the 80/20 rule by their texts purported to alter § 203(y)’s definition of an employee engaged in fire protection activities. The 80/20 rule stated, after all, that “[a] person who spends more than 20 percent of his/her working time in nonexempt activities is not considered to be an employee engaged in fire protection or law enforcement activities for purposes of this part.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.212(a) (emphasis added). Therefore the regulations had to yield to the statute, and were deemed obsolete. And lastly, the analysis in Huff and Gonzalez centered on whether the plaintiffs there satisfied § 203(y)’s requirement for a “responsibility” to fight fires. Here, the plaintiffs have already conceded § 203(y) applies to them.

The city nevertheless urges us to apply a broader interpretation of Huff and Gonzalez to this case-to conclude that § 203(y) mandates, without exception, firefighter overtime for anyone who fits the statute’s definition of firefighter. The city argues that the dual assignment regulation must fall because it creates an exception to § 203(y). It essentially claims that what the 80/20 regulation did through its text, the dual assignment regulation does in its effect. Therefore, concludes the city’s argument, the dual assignment regulation poses a “direct conflict” to the operation of § 203(y). The district court adopted this line of reasoning, concluding that 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(b) “further refined” § 203(y)’s definition of an employee in fire protection activities in the same way the 80/20 rule did. Mem. Op. and Order 12. The district court concluded that the dual assignment regulation posed an “inherent conflict” with § 203(y). Id. 13.

We find no conflict between § 203(y) and the dual assignment regulation, and we reject the broader reading of Huff and Gonzalez that the city urges. The plain words of the regulation create no problematic interaction with the statute, in the way the regulations at issue in Huff and Gonzalez did. Therefore those cases do not control the outcome here.

We also note that in order to effectuate the FLSA, Congress, in passing § 203(y), clearly relied on the existence and operation of numerous pre-existing DOL regulations. One such regulation, by way of example, is regulation 29 C.F.R. § 553.230, which specifies the numerical overtime ceilings for firefighters and law enforcement employees. It is not unreasonable to conclude that Congress, in passing § 203(y), was also aware of the dual assignment regulation, implicitly relied on it, and thereby ratified its continuing application.

One last issue bears addressing. The district court identified a second ground for finding the dual assignment regulation obsolete: the dual assignment regulation invokes the obsolete regulations for fire protection activities and the 80/20 rule. However, we do not find such citation, by itself, disabling. Rather, it is easy to read the dual assignment regulation as importing and applying § 203(y)’s updated statutory definition of an employee in fire protection activities as seamlessly as it once applied the now-obsolete regulatory definition. And, the mention of the 80/20 rule in 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(a) has no bearing on the operation of the dual assignment provision in 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(b).”

Thus, the Court held that the “dual assignment” regulation, which provides that, when public employee qualifies both as fire protection and law enforcement personnel, he receives overtime according to rules for activity that takes up majority of his working time, was not definitional and did not conflict with updated statutory definition of “[e]mployee in fire protection activities,” so as not to be rendered obsolete by amendment of statute.

The full opinion is available at Cremeens v. City of Montgomery

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D.S.D.: Special Detail Exemption Recognized By 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1) Of The FLSA Applies To Exclude Certain Time Worked, Because Firefighters Were On Firefighting Detail Solely At Their Own Option, During Off Duty Hours, And The State And The City Are Separate And Independent Employers

Specht v. City of Sioux Falls

This case was before the Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  The specific issue is the City’s affirmative defense that the firefighters were exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1) establishes a special detail exemption so that hours worked on special detail are not combined with the regular hours for calculating overtime compensation.

The Court cited the following facts as relevant to the issue at bar:

“Plaintiffs are firefighters employed by the City of Sioux Falls in the Fire Rescue Department (SFFR). During July and August of 2006, all of the Plaintiffs were deployed to assist in fighting wildfires. In July of 2006, Ricky Larsen, who was the Chief of SFFR received a call from the South Dakota state fire dispatch requesting assistance in battling wildfires. There was a list of SFFR firefighters who were wildland firefighter certified. Each firefighter has the right to accept or deny when offered an opportunity at deployment. Reimbursements to the City by the State for the firefighters’ compensation were made pursuant to a contract between the City and the State. The normal schedule called for the firefighters to work 204 hours during a 27 day pay period. Typically a firefighter’s deployment for wildland firefighting is not more than 14 days. There was a concern that deployed firefighters would be paid less than if they had stayed in Sioux Falls and worked the normal 204 hours work schedule. SFFR agreed to pay the difference between 204 hours and the hours actually worked during a 27 day period in which a firefighter was deployed if a firefighter’s hours during the 27 day period totaled less than 204.”

Laying out the relevant law regarding the s0-called “Special Detail Exemption” the Court stated:

29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1) provides:

If an individual who is employed by a State, political subdivision of a State, or an interstate governmental agency in fire protection or law enforcement activities (including activities of security personnel in correctional institutions) and who, solely at such individual’s option, agrees to be employed on a special detail by a separate or independent employer in fire protection, law enforcement, or related activities, the hours such individual was employed by such separate and independent employer shall be excluded by the public agency employing such individual in the calculation of the hours for which the employee is entitled to overtime compensation under this section if the public agency-

(A) requires that its employees engaged in fire protection, law enforcement, or security activities be hired by a separate and independent employer to perform the special detail,

(B) facilitates the employment of such employees by a separate and independent employer, or

(C) otherwise affects the condition of employment of such employees by a separate and independent employer.

Code of Federal Regulations.

29 C.F.R. § 553.227 provides:

(a) Section 7(p)(1) makes special provision for fire protection and law enforcement employees of public agencies who, at their own option, perform special duty work in fire protection, law enforcement or related activities for a separate and independent employer (public or private) during their off-duty hours. The hours of work for the separate and independent employer are not combined with the hours worked for the primary public agency employer for purposes of overtime compensation.

(b) Section 7(p)(1) applies to such outside employment provided (1) The special detail work is performed solely at the employee’s option, and (2) the two employers are in fact separate and independent.

(c) Whether two employers are, in fact, separate and independent can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.

(d) The primary employer may facilitate the employment or affect the conditions of employment of such employees. For example, a police department may maintain a roster of officers who wish to perform such work. The department may also select the officers for special details from a list of those wishing to participate, negotiate their pay, and retain a fee for administrative expenses. The department may require that the separate and independent employer pay the fee for such services directly to the department, and establish procedures for the officers to receive their pay for the special details through the agency’s payroll system. Finally, the department may require that the officers observe their normal standards of conduct during such details and take disciplinary action against those who fail to do so.

(e) Section 7(p)(1) applies to special details even where a State law or local ordinance requires that such work be performed and that only law enforcement or fire protection employees of a public agency in the same jurisdiction perform the work. For example, a city ordinance may require the presence of city police officers at a convention center during concerts or sports events. If the officers perform such work at their own option, the hours of work need not be combined with the hours of work for their primary employer in computing overtime compensation.

(f) The principles in paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section with respect to special details of public agency fire protection and law enforcement employees under section 7(p)(1) are exceptions to the usual rules on joint employment set forth in part 791 of this title.

(g) Where an employee is directed by the public agency to perform work for a second employer, section 7(p)(1) does not apply. Thus, assignments of police officers outside of their normal work hours to perform crowd control at a parade, where the assignments are not solely at the option of the officers, would not qualify as special details subject to this exception. This would be true even if the parade organizers reimburse the public agency for providing such services.

(h) Section 7(p)(1) does not prevent a public agency from prohibiting or restricting outside employment by its employees.

Department of Labor Letter Rulings.

This § 207(p)(1) exemption has been addressed in two opinion letter rulings issued by the United States Department of Labor on November 19, 1992 and in a third opinion letter ruling issued December 31, 2007. Ginsburg et al., Fair Labor Standards Handbook, App. III, pp. 186-87 & 457-58 (1998). In the second1992 opinion letter the Department of Labor opined that county sheriff’s deputies who are employed by a village to perform law enforcement services for the village under a proposed contract between the county and the village fall under § 207(p)(1) so that the hours worked by the deputies for both employers are not combined for FLSA overtime compensation purposes. “Section 207(p)(1) applies to such outside employment provided (1) the special detail work is performed solely at the employee’s option, and (2) the two employers are in fact separate and independent.” The Department of Labor cited 29 C . F.R. § 553.227.

In contrast, the first November 19, 1992, opinion letter opined that § 207(p)(1) did not apply to a paramedic who worked for a county’s emergency medical services department and who also worked as a part time communications supervisor in the county’s sheriff department so that the hours worked in both county departments should be combined for overtime purposes. The departments were not separate and independent employers. The employee worked for a single employer, the county, in different departments. These two opinion letters illustrate the principle of § 207(p)(1) which is described as follows in the first letter ruling:

Section 7(p)(1) makes special provision for fire protection and law enforcement employees who, at their own option, perform activities for a separate and independent (emphasis in original) employer(public or private) during their off-duty hours. The hours of work for the separate and independent employer are not combined with the hours worked for the primary public agency employer for the purposes fo overtime compensation. See § 553.227 of the regulations.  Id.

In the 2007 opinion letter the Department of Labor opined that the city police department and a non-profit group which operates the city convention center are separate and independent employers so that § 207(p)(1) applies when police officers perform security duties at the convention center during their off hours. “[I]t is our opinion that the City Police Department would not be obligated to include the hours worked by police officers on special assignment to the Authority in calculating and paying overtime due them.”

The language of 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1), 29 C.F.R. § 553.227, and the Department of Labor is plain, i.e. if the firefighter has the option to accept or reject the assignment and if the second employer is a separate and independent employer, then the primary employer does not count the hours the firefighter spends on the special detail for the second employer in the calculation to determine the firefighter’s entitlement to overtime.

Case Precedent.

Case precedent is consistent with these legal principles. Jackson v. City of San Antonio, 2006 WL 2548545, *4-*7, (W.D.Tex.2006) (Section 7(p)(1) special duty exemption bars police officers’ overtime claims against the City for hours worked for separate and independent employers during off duty hours); Nolan v.. City of Chicago, 125 F.Supp.2d 324, 335-339, (N.C.Ill.2000) (Section 7(p)(1) sets forth a two part test: if the assignment is solely at the employees option and the employers are in fact separate and independent the special detail exemption applies and the hours worked for the separate employer are not combined for purposes of assessing overtime compensation); Cox v. Town of Puughkeepsie, 209 F.Supp.2d 319, 324-327 ((S.D. N.Y 2002) (Section 7(p)(1) does not apply to voluntary work performed by police officers because the town and the town police department are a single employer); Baltimore County FOP Lodge 4 v. Baltimore County, 565 F.Supp.2d 672, 676-679, (D. Maryland 2008) (Section 7(p)(1) special detail exemption cannot be decided as a matter of law on summary judgment motion because there are questions of fact to be resolved by a jury on both the voluntary and separate employer prongs); Murphy v. Town of Natick, 515 F.Supp.2d 153, 157-158, (D. Mass 2007) (Section 7(p)(1) special detail exemption does not apply because the Town is not a separate and independent entity from any of its constituent departments); Barajas v. Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, 87 F.Supp.2d 1201, 1205-1209, (D.Kansas 2000) (Section 7(p)(1) special detail exemption cannot be decided as a matter of law even though parties agree the assignments are solely at the employees option because there are questions of fact about the Unified Government and the Housing Authority as separate and independent employers).

The Court then analyzed the relevant factors, concluding that all elements of the exemption were met here.

“Solely at the Firefighter’s Own Option.

Specht described the procedure for calling the list for volunteers (Doc. 24, Ex. 13, Specht depo. p. 63-64):

… [Y]ou have to go to the first person on the list that has the fewest number of hours…. I will use SF 29 as an example …; under “Remarks,” it says, “No answer.”…. [T]hey can leave an answer (sic) on the answering machine, and they must wait a minimum of-I believe it’s five minutes-before they can call the next person so that that person could look at their messages and call in and say: “Yes, I want to work.” “No, I don’t.” …. By contract and by policy, you can either accept the overtime or reject it, unless they declare an emergency. Or, once they’ve been all the way through the list, then they can call-if they get a hold of you the second time, then they can require you to take the overtime. (emphasis added).

Specht also testified that all the firefighters who responded in 2006 were accepting the offered “overtime.” Whether it is called volunteering or called overtime, the firefighters accepted. They had the option to say, “no, I won’t go,” or “yes” on the first time the list was called. Plaintiff argues that the wildfire fighting deployment was not voluntary because the firefighter could be assigned to go on deployment if there were not enough who accepted the first time the list was called. This argument is academic and not relevant. There were enough firefighters who accepted the first time the list was called. None of these plaintiffs was assigned to accept the deployment against his will. The list was not called a second time. The notes on the calling sheets reflect that several said “yes” to this wildfire fighting deployment and several said “no” (Doc. 36). There were ten “yes.” There were ten “no.” There were seven who said “after a certain date.”

The plaintiffs were on this wildland fire fighting project solely at their own option. The first prong of the section 7(p)(1) special detail test existed.

Separate and Independent Employer.

The other employer is the State. It cannot reasonably be argued or concluded that the City and the State are the same employer. The Department of Labor and the case law have identified the factors to test for separate and independent employers:

(1) whether the employers have separate payroll/personnel systems;

(2) whether the employers have separate retirement systems;

(3) whether the employers have separate budgets and funding authorities;

(4) whether the employers are separate legal entities with the power to sue and to be sued;

(5) whether the employers dealt with each other at arms length concerning the employment of any individuals in question;

(6) how they are treated under state law;

(7) whether one employer controls the appointment of the officers of the other entity.

Department of Labor Letter Ruling: December 31, 2007; Jackson, 2006 WL 2548545 at *5.

The responses to these questions are so obvious there is little or nothing in the record about them. Judicial notice is taken of the facts not in the record, but which are nonetheless relevant to the evaluation of these factors. Federal Rules of Evidence 201(b), (c) & (f). It is known that under state law the State has its own payroll, personnel, and retirement system. It is known that under city ordinance the City has its own payroll, personnel, and retirement system. The State and the City have separate budgets and different funding sources. (Both rely significantly on sales taxes-the State sales tax is 4% and the City sales tax is 2%. A purchaser in Sioux Falls pays a total of 6%, but the 6% is the total of two separate tax levies.) The State and the City are separate legal entities. Both have the power to sue and be sued, e.g. this lawsuit where the City is a defendant and the State is not a party. The State and the City dealt at arms length-see the written contract between them formed and filed under State statute, SDCL 1-24. The City and the State are treated as separate entities under state law. Neither the State nor the City control the appointment of officers of the other.

The City and the State are separate and independent employers. The second prong of the section 7(p)(1) special detail test existed.

During Off Duty Hours.

The usual scenario for the application of 7(p)(1) is when the fireman or policeman works for a second employer during off duty hours, e.g. at a concert or a sporting event. The Code of Federal Regulations and the Department of Labor letter rulings use the words “during their off duty hours.” The present plaintiffs are not in that situation because they are geographically so far from their home duty station that they cannot return home after a duty shift. Consequently, at the remote locations they work both the equivalent of their normal duty shift and the equivalent of their normal off duty hours. Since the present firefighters work both their normal on duty hours and their normal off duty hours at a remote location fighting wildfires, the use of the words “off duty hours” in the Code of Federal Regulations raises an issue about the applicability of the special detail exemption to the plaintiffs. The question is answered by 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1) itself. The statute does not limit the special detail exemption to off duty hours. The statute provides that a firefighter employed by a city “in fire protection … who, solely at the firefighter’s option agrees to be employed on a special detail by a separate or independent employer in fire protection … the hours such individual was employed by such separate and independent employer shall be excluded by the public agency employing such individual in the calculation of the hours for which the employee is entitled to overtime compensation ….“ (emphasis added) The statute which created the special detail exemption did not limit the special detail exemption to off duty hours. The statute plainly says the hours employed by the separate and independent employer shall be excluded when calculating overtime compensation

Under the FLSA the second employer must pay overtime if the employee works more than 40 hours during a workweek and some exemption does not apply. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). To illustrate, if the firefighter works three 16 hour days fighting a wildfire during a workweek, then the second employer pays overtime, i.e. 48 hours worked compared to 40 hours equals 8 hours overtime. The way it works is this: if FLSA overtime is worked on the special wildfire fighting detail, the State pays the FLSA overtime. If a firefighter’s special detail hours and other, normal hours in Sioux Falls added together during a 27 day work cycle total fewer than 204 hours, the City pays the difference so the firefighter is assured at least 204 hours for the pay cycle in which a wildfire fighting deployment occurs. The special detail hours are not combined with the normal shift hours to calculate overtime compensation per 29 U.S .C. § 207(p)(1).”

Holding that all the relevant elements of the exemption were present here, the Court granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment finding that the special detail exemption recognized by 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act applied.

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Filed under Affirmative Defenses, Exemptions, Work Time