Today’s FLSA Question: I am a city human resources manager. Our city’s firefighters work 24 hours on-duty, followed by 48 hours off-duty for an average of 56 hours per week. Currently, the city utilizes a 27-day work period for line firefighters. However, our firefighters are paid bi-weekly. Therefore, firefighters frequently do not get paid for their overtime until two or even three paychecks after they have physically worked the overtime. As a result, it is not unusual to field a question or two every payday from confused firefighters mistakenly believing we forgot their overtime. Is there an easier or more preferred FLSA work period for our city to follow?
Answer: Unfortunately, there is no “preferred” or “go-to” work period that your city could adopt to make all of these types of questions disappear. However, there are advantages and disadvantages from various work periods. Whether or not it makes sense to vary from your current 27-day period is something that you will need to consider after weighing the pros and cons of different work periods.
The FLSA requires public agency fire departments adopt a work period between 7 and 28 days in order to take advantage of the §207(k) partial overtime exemption. The FLSA’s §207(k) partial overtime exemption is the unique provision of the FLSA that allows public agency fire departments avoid traditional overtime requirements (i.e. overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40 every 7 days). Therefore, if a fire department does not want to pay firefighters’ overtime after working only 40 hours in a 7-day workweek, it must adopt a qualifying work period. Click here for more detailed information on work periods.
As a general rule, shorter work periods result in more FLSA overtime for firefighters. In comparison, longer work periods typically result in less FLSA overtime. However, longer work periods can create administrative challenges for professionals tasked with the department’s payroll function. This is especially true when the length of the work period does not align with the department’s pay periods.
There also can be higher administrative costs associated with work periods that span multiple pay periods. For example, if a fire department has adopted a twenty-eight-day work period, but pays firefighters bi-weekly, administrative professionals tasked with paying the firefighters will need to look at hours worked in several pay periods in order to determine overtime eligibility for the work period. Under some circumstances, small adjustments must be made to wages received in the previous paycheck in order to ensure that all FLSA overtime was paid at the proper rate of pay.
This is part of the reason why a work period that aligns with the employee’s pay period can offer significant advantages to both fire department administrative personnel and the firefighters receiving a paycheck. The firefighter is paid for all hours worked including his or her FLSA overtime hours each paycheck and payroll and finance officials are not required to look-back over previous pay periods to determine both overtime eligibility. Additionally, there is no need to adjust wages paid in the previous paycheck to ensure FLSA compliance.
At the end of the day, the best work period is a question best answered by the individual agency. A large agency with many employees and a complex time keeping and payroll system may find utilizing a 27 or a 28-day work period for its firefighters more cost-effective than shorter alternatives. A smaller agency that tracks hours worked and regular rate calculations manually may find a shorter work period worth the additional FLSA costs. The most important point to remember, is that when paying firefighters each work period stands alone and the fire department must pay overtime (or provide FLSA comp time) for all hours worked over the statutory maximum for the chosen work period.
Do you have FLSA questions like this? If yes, please consider attending one of the upcoming FLSA for Fire Departments Live Webinars. We cover everything fire department senior officers, union officials, city HR and finance professionals, or anybody responsible for paying emergency service workers needs to know about the FLSA.