“Off-the-Books” Paid Time Off Practice Ended for Ohio Police and Firefighters

The City of Akron, Ohio has ended the practice of providing “off-the-books” paid time off to some police officers and firefighters. For more than 30 years, the city had an unwritten policy that allowed some police officers and firefighters take time off in lieu of receiving overtime pay for attendance at community outreach meetings and fire safety events. The paid time off was referred to by city workers as “book time” and “pocket time.” Unfortunately, the city’s practices ran afoul of federal (FLSA) record-keeping requirements, and the city was required to pay out more than $30,000 in back wages to a couple of dozen police officers and firefighters. Here is how the system worked.

Some police officers and firefighters were required to attend various community outreach and fire safety meetings as part of their jobs. These meetings were often held during the evening and on weekends. This would normally trigger overtime for police officers and firefighters who attended. Police and fire department supervisors utilized what was referred to as “book” or “pocket time” in lieu of providing overtime pay for time spent at the meetings. This practice saved the city money and provided the officers and firefighters additional time off at a later date. The city provided 1.5 hours of paid time off for every hour of overtime the employee was owed. Also, there is no indication the city forced these employees to use “pocket” or “book time” in lieu of receiving overtime pay.

On the surface this certainly seems like a “win-win” for all involved. However, by failing to keep any records of “pocket” or “book time,” the city ran afoul of federal law. The Department of Labor (DOL) conducted an investigation into the practice and found the city violated federal law by not paying overtime as required by the FLSA. The DOL ordered the city to cease the practice and pay a total of about $33,000 to 46 city employees.

The city could have utilized FLSA comp time in lieu of providing cash overtime payments if some basic rules were followed. FLSA comp time requires at a minimum:

  • An agreement between the city and employees to provide comp time in lieu of overtime.
  • Employees receive 1.5 hours of comp time for every hour of FLSA overtime owed.
  • The city to maintain records pertaining to the number of comp time hours accrued, utilized, and paid out to employees.
  • The city caps the maximum number of comp time hours a police officer of firefighter can accrue at 480.

FLSA comp time can prove a valuable benefit for both employees and employers—if managed correctly. While adhering to FLSA and DOL requirements may require a bit of effort on the part of employers, the potential overtime savings for the community, in conjunction with more scheduling flexibility for employees, can make comp time a win-win for all involved. Hopefully, Akron city officials and police and firefighters can work toward continuing to provide valuable resources for the community while keeping the overtime budget reasonable.

FLSA comp time is one of many topics covered in depth at all the FLSA for fire departments seminars. Please consider joining us at the sole remaining 2018 offering, in sunny Mesa, AZ this December.

Here is more on the Akron Story from the Akron Beacon Journal.

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