Retired First Deputy Fire Chief Gary Mogel has filed an FLSA lawsuit against his former employer, the City of Reading, Pennsylvania alleging the city violated the FLSA by failing to pay fire department shift commanders any overtime. This lawsuit is the latest of several recent lawsuits involving fire department shift commanders challenging their employer’s classification as “white-collar” overtime exempt employees. Whether a fire department shift commander, or even company officer, can be properly classified as an overtime exempt employee hinges on the specific facts involved. This means that a shift commander in one fire department may meet the requirements of a “white-collar” overtime exempt employee, yet the neighboring communities shift commanders do not.
Generally speaking, the analysis in which any court will rely upon to determine whether a shift commander, or any high-ranking fire department officer is a “white-collar” overtime exempt employee relies on two key factors. First, the way and amount the fire officer is paid, which is referred to as the “salary test.” And second, the duties that the fire officer performs, which is referred to as the “duties test.”
In the majority of circumstances involving high-ranking fire officers, the employer—i.e. fire department—can easily satisfy the salary portion of the equation. However, the real challenge lies in satisfying the second factor. In order to deny a fire officer overtime under the “white-collar” overtime exemption, a court must find the officer’s primary duty, [i.e. their principal, main, or most important duty they perform] is acting as a manager and not as a first responder.
This finding is necessary because Department of Labor (DOL) regulations prohibit an employer from classifying first responders as “white-collar” overtime exempt employees. This premise is bolstered by the text of the DOL’s First Responder Regulations which clearly state first responders are entitled to overtime “regardless of rank or pay level.”
The applicability of the FLSA’s “white collar” exemptions to fire department personnel continues to be one of the most hotly debated FLSA topics in the fire service today. A topic that we discuss in-depth at all of our FLSA for Fire Departments live webinars. Our next webinar is less than a month away. If you have questions regarding the FLSA and how it applies to firefighters and other public safety personnel, please consider joining us. Click here, for more information.
We will be watching this one closely as it develops. Here is a copy of the complaint.