U.S. Firefighter Working Overseas and the FLSA

Today’s FLSA question: I am a U.S citizen working as a contract firefighter at a U.S. military base overseas. The company I work for is based in the U.S. My co-workers and I receive straight time for all hours worked. We receive zero overtime. We average over 80 hours of work per week! Does the FLSA apply to us?

The FLSA only applies to workers in the United States, District of Columbia, or any territory of the U.S. If you work as a civilian at a military base located in a U.S. territory, then the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements would most likely apply. 29 U.S.C. §213(f) of the FLSA lists the following as “territor[ies] under the jurisdiction of the United States”:

  • Puerto Rico
  • Virgin Islands
  • American Samoa
  • Guam
  • Wake Island
  • Eniwetok Atoll
  • Kwajalein Atoll
  • Johnston Island
  • Outer Continental Shelf lands defined in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act

If your base is located in one of these territories, most likely the FLSA is applicable to you and your co-workers. Unfortunately, if it is not, then you may need to look at other options to try and receive overtime.

The FLSA, which became law in 1938, initially extended minimum wage and overtime protection to workers at U.S. military bases outside of the U.S. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court found civilian contractors working on a U.S. military installation in Bermuda were entitled to FLSA minimum wage and overtime protection. See Vermilya-Brown Co. v. Connell, 335 U.S. 377. In response to this decision Congress amended the FLSA and regulations for fear that paying civilian workers higher wages would upset the local labor economies of foreign countries. Congress reasoned paying significantly higher wages to civilian contractors at military bases would cause worker shortages for other nearby employers.

More recently, several U.S. courts have dismissed claims for alleged FLSA violations made by U.S. civilian contractors working overseas citing the clear language contained in section §213(f) of the FLSA.

Despite this fact, there may be other “non-FLSA” options available for you and your co-workers. Examine any employment contract or employee handbooks that may have been provided when you agreed to work for this employer. The provisions in those agreements may be in conflict with current pay practices. Local wage and hour laws in the country that you are working could also be relevant. Finally, believe it or not, some local U.S. state laws could have an impact here. Remember, very often state wage and hour laws provide greater protection for workers than the FLSA. Whether this option, which may be a long-shot, is worth exploring would depend on many different factors. Either way, you should consult an attorney that is up to speed on these types of complicated issues to review your options.

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