A group of four firefighters have filed a lawsuit, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging their employer, the Village of Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, underpaid them for overnight shifts and failed to pay overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law. The Village of Winthrop Harbor is a small village located on the shores of Lake Michigan about 50 miles north of Chicago. This small village has a population of under 7,000 people and according to the city’s website, its fire department staffs one station and has a minimum of four firefighters on duty at all times.
Based on the firefighters’ complaint, Winthrop Harbor firefighters work a rather unusual type of work schedule. Firefighters are assigned to one of six different work shifts over the course of a 7-day workweek. In addition to their assigned work shift, each firefighter is also required to work an additional nine-hour overnight shift between the hours of 8:00 PM and 5:00 AM. The firefighters allege that the village pays a flat stipend of $50 for this 9-hour overnight shift. Additionally, the village doesn’t count the hours worked during the overnight shift towards the firefighters’ hours worked for overtime purposes.
The FLSA requires that employees receive at least the federally prescribed minimum wage for all hours worked in each workweek, or in the case of firefighter, work period. Additionally, all hours worked must be counted for overtime purposes for that particular workweek or work period. The FLSA does not require employers pay employees the same rate of pay for all the hours they work, however the rate of pay must be at least the minimum wage.
For example, fire department X could pay firefighters $20 per hour for all hours worked during daytime and evening hours and then reduce the firefighters pay to $10 per hour for the overnight hours. (Assuming the state minimum wage is at least $10 per hour.) This type of pay plan would present unique challenges for finance and human resource professionals that may be responsible for calculating each firefighter’s regular rate of pay at the end of the work period, however it would meet the FLSA’s basic requirements.
In some circumstances, an employer can even deduct sleep time from employees, provided certain criteria is met. For firefighters, this typically requires a work shift in excess of 24 hours, adequate sleeping facilities, the ability to usually receive an uninterrupted night’s sleep, and an agreement between the department and the firefighters to exclude sleep time from their hours worked. Sleep time deductions can also present unique challenges for folks responsible for calculating firefighter’s regular rate of pay. However, for some smaller, slower fire departments it may be a reasonable option to reduce firefighter overtime. Click here for more on firefighters and the sleep time deduction.
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Here is a copy of the firefighters’ complaint.