Wake County, North Carolina has reached a very quick settlement with a group of current and former paramedics following a March 2021 FLSA lawsuit in which county medics alleged “miscalculated overtime premiums.” The settlement requires Wake County pay a total of $297,121.90 to settle all claims for back wages and liquidated damages with all plaintiffs. Additionally, the county will pay a total of $121,368.85 to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The initial complaint—which included only one plaintiff at the time of filing and had since grown to include several dozen plaintiffs—contained rather straightforward allegations related to the way Wake County counted hours worked by medics’ that spanned two separate workweeks. For example, Wake County’s established workweek spanned from “midnight on Saturday until 11:59 on Friday.” As a result of this established workweek, county medics working the overnight shift on Friday into Saturday worked hours that spanned two separate workweeks. According to the medics’ complaint, the county counted the hours worked in the work shift in the workweek in which the shift began, as opposed to counting all hours worked in each workweek.
The FLSA requires employers count all hours worked by overtime eligible employees each workweek. Additionally, the FLSA and Department of Labor regulations require that each workweek stand alone and forbids the averaging or counting of hours worked in one workweek against hours worked in another workweek. This type of overlap between work shifts and established workweeks or work periods is commonplace in many emergency service organizations where employees work 24 hours per pay, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. Professionals responsible for paying EMTs, firefighters, law enforcement personnel, and public safety dispatchers need to carefully evaluate each workweek or work period and pay employees for all hours worked in that workweek or work period.
This may seem like an insignificant requirement, since many employers mistakenly believe that one workweek “washes” the other. In other words, an underpayment in one week will be offset by an over payment in a future workweek. However, DOL regulations do not recognize any exception related to underpaying employees in one week and over paying them in the next. Additionally, small mistakes can add up quickly and often result in unnecessary litigation and costs if allowed to continue over time. Here, the parties agreed to a three-year look back for purposes of calculating back wages and damages.
Here is a copy of the Joint Memorandum in Support of the Settlement Agreement, as well as coverage from FirefighterOvertime.org dating back to last spring.