Paramedic Terry Rich has filed an FLSA lawsuit, on behalf of himself and other similarly situated individuals [i.e. other EMTs and medics Terry believes may have also been shorted straight time and overtime pay], against his employer, Putnam County Tennessee. Specifically, Terry claims Putnam County Emergency Services Department fails to pay EMTs for all hours worked every workweek, overtime for all hours worked over forty every workweek, and time spent working before and after assigned shifts.
According to Rich’s complaint, Putnam County EMTs work a rotating 2-week schedule of alternating 12-hour work shifts. In the first week, EMTs are scheduled work three 12-hour shifts, resulting in a total of 36 hours worked. However, in the second week, they are scheduled to work four 12-hour shifts, resulting in forty-eight hours worked. Rich claims the county fails to pay EMTs overtime for all hours worked during this second forty-eight-hour workweek.
The FLSA requires non-exempt employees receive overtime for all hours worked over 40 every 7-days. The FLSA requires non-exempt employees paid for all hours worked each and every workweek. The FLSA prohibits employers from averaging hours worked one-week against hours worked in the next or previous weeks.
Rich also claims the county fails to pay EMTs for work performed outside of their regularly scheduled shifts. Rich states that he—and as many as 47 other EMTs—spend between 12 and 17 minutes prior to each shift checking and preparing their assigned ambulances for the upcoming shift. The county does not pay the medics or EMTs for this worktime. If proven, this would be a violation of the FLSA
Lawsuits over unpaid pre-and-post shift activities are on the rise. Putnam County is not the only agency facing this type of wage and hour lawsuit. The City of New York has been slapped with several very similar lawsuits over the last several months by EMTs and various other city workers seeking pay for work performed before and after their scheduled shifts.
Despite this rise in lawsuits over unpaid pre-and-post shift work activities, there are steps employers can take to avoid and potentially mitigate the damages from these types of suits. However, employers must be proactive in this effort. The temptation to sit back and “let it ride” or assume that this type of claim would “never happen in my agency” is misguided and will likely end up costing your organization more in the long-run.
Here are some simple steps managers and chief officers can undertake to put their organizations in a better position to both avoid litigation and minimize costs associated with claims related to unpaid pre-and-post shift work.
First, managers and chief officers of emergency service agencies must develop a knowledge of the FLSA and how it applies to their organization. A fundamental understanding of the FLSA’s basic wage and hour requirements will prove necessary in avoiding these types of errors from the outset. Second, develop and implement departmental policies related to work-time, overtime, off-the-clock work, and a variety of other wage and hour topics. These policies can form the frame-work necessary to both avoid potential litigation and minimize the financial impact from litigation that may occur. Finally, review and keep accurate records as required by both the FLSA and state law. Complete and accurate records will prove crucial in minimizing potential damages that could be awarded as result of uncompensated off-the-clock claims.
The stakes involved are just too high to ignore. If you have questions about the FLSA, please consider joining us at one of the upcoming FLSA for Fire Departments seminars. Here is a copy of Rich’s complaint.