Today’s FLSA Question: I am the fire chief of a mid-sized full-time fire department. Currently, our firefighters work 24-hour shifts; however, the firefighters’ union is proposing a move to 48-hour work shifts. I am open to the change, but I am concerned about firefighter fatigue and the effects of working shifts longer than 48 hours. We do not have a policy related to the maximum number of consecutive hours a firefighter can work. I proposed a policy that limits consecutive hours a firefighter can work to seventy-two. In response, the union president countered that the FLSA restricts my ability to set such a policy. Would the FLSA prohibit a fire department from implementing a policy like this?
Answer: Chief, you are not the only fire chief wrestling with this issue. Many fire departments across that country are looking at modifying work shifts beyond the typical 24 hours. You are wise to be thinking about the potential FLSA repercussions related to such a change. Under certain circumstances, just moving from a 24-hour to a 48-hour work shift can increase required FLSA overtime even though the average number of hours scheduled and worked by firefighters does not change.
The FLSA does not restrict your ability to set a policy related to the maximum number of consecutive hours a firefighter can work. You may be required to bargain with the union over the policy, however that would depend on local collective bargaining laws and not the FLSA.
Many people are surprised to learn that the FLSA does not address consecutive hours worked. Collective bargaining agreements can, and often do, place restrictions on the number of consecutive hours a firefighter can work, however the FLSA does not. When you boil-it-down to the basics, the FLSA only requires employees receive at least the federal minimum wage and overtime when required. In theory, a firefighter could be required to work twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, and not run afoul of the FLSA provided they receive at least the federal minimum wage and overtime when required.
Coincidentally, this is one of many topics covered in-depth at all of our FLSA for Fire Departments seminars. The next seminar is less than a month away and seats are still available. Please consider joining us.