The City of Kansas City, Missouri has reached a global settlement with 383 current and former city firefighters following their 2019 lawsuit for alleged violations of the FLSA. The firefighters alleged in the lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri on February 8, 2019, that the city failed to include specialty / incentive pay in their regular rate of pay as required by the FLSA.
The FLSA requires that all remuneration paid to employees–subject to only a few narrow exceptions–be included in their regular rate of pay. Proper calculation of the regular rate is critical because all FLSA overtime must be paid at a rate of at least time and one-half of the employee’s regular rate of pay. When an employer fails to include all remuneration in an employee’s regular rate, the employee receives less overtime pay than required by law.
Terms of the settlement are as follows:
- The city agrees to pay $2,060,192.83 to the firefighters for overtime work, costs of litigation, and attorney fees.
- Three-hundred thousand dollars of the settlement are earmarked for the firefighters’ attorney fees and costs associated with the litigation.
- The remaining $1,760,192.83 will be divided among the almost 400 plaintiff firefighters in proportion to the number of hours that they worked in the three years prior to filing the lawsuit.
Properly calculating a firefighter’s regular rate of pay can be extremely challenging. This is primarily a result of the way firefighters are often paid. For example, it is not uncommon for firefighters to receive additional compensation, often referred to as wage augments, above their base rate of pay. Wage augments for longevity, medic certifications, shift differentials, hazardous duty pay, and acting out of rank or grade are commonplace in the fire service. As a general rule, all of these additional payments must be included in a firefighter’s regular rate of pay.
This challenge is often compounded when firefighters receive multiple wage augments that are paid in different ways or varying times. Some wage augments are provided by the hour, while others may be provided per shift or even on an annual basis. Regardless of how the wage augment is paid, the FLSA requires it included in the employee’s regular rate.
Additionally, the stakes associated with a relatively small mistake can be very high. Today’s fire service allows, and at times requires, firefighters and other public safety professionals to work extreme amounts of overtime as a common occurrence. There was a time when fire departments would staff-up the organization with additional personnel to accommodate anticipated vacancies and the need for overtime was not an everyday occurrence. This is no longer the case. It is not uncommon for firefighters to work 20 or more hours of overtime in a single week on a continuous basis. As a result, a small inadvertent miscalculation can grow significantly when multiplied by many hours of overtime.
It is imperative that professionals responsible for managing firefighters’ hours worked and compensation understand the FLSA’s basic requirements. Here is a copy of the firefighters unopposed motion to settle the lawsuit.