The City of Huntington, West Virginia has agreed to a $415,000 settlement with a group of current and former city firefighters following their 2020 lawsuit over holiday pay. The firefighters’ allegations center around a unique portion of the West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act that requires paid firefighters either receive time and one-half pay for all hours worked on a holiday, or paid time off for all recognized state holidays. Numerous other municipalities across the state of West Virginia have faced similar lawsuits in the past few years. In fact, the City of Morgantown and its firefighters have been embroiled in a long-running legal battle over this issue. That case is currently before the West Virginia Supreme Court.
In addition to the $415,000 in back wages, the city agreed to provide firefighters an additional “bank” of paid time off for holidays that occurred from the filing of the lawsuit until the date of the settlement. The city will also modify holiday pay practices moving forward. Firefighters that are not scheduled to work holidays will receive an additional 12 hours of paid time off, over and above the firefighters’ normal paid time off accruals required under the collective bargaining agreement between the firefighters and the city. Additionally, firefighters that work a shift that leads into a holiday [midnight to 7 am] will receive 5 hours of paid time off in addition to their normal leave accruals. The city will continue to pay firefighters that work holidays in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. Finally, the settlement also requires the city to pay an undisclosed amount for the firefighters’ legal expenses and costs associated with the litigation.
According to West Virginia Record, the West Virginia’s firefighter Holiday Pay statute has been in place since 1976 and was enacted to recognize the many sacrifices municipal firefighters face by being required to work on holidays. The statute intended “to enhance [firefighter] pay for [working] holidays, a day when most people are at home with their families.” Here is the text of the statute in its entirety:
CHAPTER 8. MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS.
ARTICLE 15. FIRE FIGHTING; FIRE COMPANIES AND DEPARTMENTS; CIVIL SERVICE FOR PAID FIRE DEPARTMENTS.
§8-15-10a. Firemen who are required to work during holidays; how compensated.
From the effective date of this section, if any member of a paid fire department is required to work during a legal holiday as is specified in subsection (a), section one, article two, chapter two of this code, or if a legal holiday falls on the member’s regular scheduled day off, he or she shall be allowed equal time off at such time as may be approved by the chief executive officer of the department under whom he or she serves or, in the alternative, shall be paid at a rate not less than one and one-half times his or her regular rate of pay: Provided, That if a special election of a political subdivision other than a municipality falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the municipality may choose not to recognize the day of the election as a holiday if a majority of the municipality’s city council votes not to recognize the day of the election as a holiday.
Despite being enacted almost fifty years ago, many West Virginia fire departments failed to follow this statute, which has led to a great deal of litigation in recent years. This case serves an important reminder of how state laws can also impact the way firefighters and other first responders must be paid. It often surprises people to learn that the FLSA does not require overtime pay for working a holiday. However, individual states may mandate overtime for working holidays. Additionally, collective bargaining agreements often require overtime and sometimes additional “holiday pay” when an employee works or doesn’t work on a holiday.
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