A Georgia EMT filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month alleging his employer, Meriwether County Fire Rescue (MCFR) failed to pay him—and other similarly situated EMTs—overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). David Barbee filed the lawsuit on May 10, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Barbee alleges he worked as an EMT for MCFR from May 2016 until June 2017 and routinely worked more than 40 hours per week without receiving overtime pay. Barbee’s complaint also alleges the county employs “many other” EMTs, which were treated similarly and could eventually join the suit.
These types of unpaid overtime claims are not unusual. Whether Barbee is entitled to FLSA overtime after working only forty hours per week will most likely hinge on whether MCFR can utilize the FLSA’s §207(k) partial overtime exemption for Barbee and the other EMTs. Some fire departments can avoid paying overtime under the FLSA’s standard 40-hour overtime threshold for EMTs that are also cross-trained firefighters.
The FLSA’s §207(k) partial overtime exemption provides a partial overtime exemption for employees engaged in fire protection activities. Despite the “fire protection” label found in the act, EMTs can also fall under this exception if certain criteria is met. For more on what can make a firefighter/EMT an employee engaged in fire protection activities click here.
Misclassifying overtime eligible employees as overtime exempt [or partially exempt] employees is a common FLSA violation. As a general rule, misclassified employees are eligible for all overtime due for the previous two years, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees. Liquidated damages are usually equal to the amount of back wages owed. In essence, the employer must pay double the actual amount of wages owed to each misclassified employee, as well as the employees attorneys’ fees. Additionally, if the court finds the FLSA violation was willful, the time period for damage recovery can be extended up to a maximum of three years with the same liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees provision.
However, according to the complaint Barbee stopped working for the county in June of 2017. Since the standard statute of limitations for FLSA claims is only two years, the county may only owe Barbee approximately two months of back wages (provided his claims are proven and the county can show its actions were not wilful).
Here is a copy of his complaint.