California Voters Clear Path Around Costly Wage and Hour Laws for Some EMS Workers

California voters overwhelmingly approved a voter initiative entitled Proposition 11 – Emergency Ambulance Employee Safety and Preparedness Act” (Act) during last week’s mid-term election. In part, this new state law will require ambulance companies provide advanced training and improved access to mental health assistance for private sector ambulance workers. In addition, Proposition 11 also mandates paid rest periods for ambulance workers.

American Medical Response (AMR) — California’s largest private sector ambulance company — engaged in a multi-million-dollar effort to raise public awareness in support of Prop 11.

If you are wondering why a private ambulance company would want to impose more regulations on an already heavily regulated industry — you need to take a close look at some of California’s strict wage and hour laws.

California continues to outpace the rest of the nation in wage and hour regulations. California wage and hour regulations expand on the basic rights provided to most workers by the FLSA and other federally mandated workplace rules. While in theory, these regulations are intended to protect workers from unfair or unethical employment practices they also effect the bottom-line for businesses operating in the state.

Some examples of these regulations include: requiring time and one-half for all hours worked over 8 on any workday, double time for all hours worked over 12 on any workday, and most importantly for this discussion, mandated rest periods during which workers must be completely relieved from duty.

Understandably, public agency firefighters and other first responders are exempted from most of these enhanced regulations. This makes sense. It would be unreasonable to think the same rules should apply to firefighters working 24 and 48-hour shifts as compared to a warehouse or factory worker.

But what about private ambulance service providers? After all, according to California Healthline, an estimated 17,000 private ambulance workers “answer about three-quarters of the state’s emergency calls.” Should all of these enhanced regulations apply to them as well? Up until last week — they did.

Over the past several years both AMR and Rural Metro, two of the largest ambulance companies in the country, have faced lawsuits filed by ambulance workers over California’s requirement that employees must be completely relieved during state mandated breaks. Practically speaking, in order to be completely relieved during a break, ambulance workers cannot be required to monitor a radio, wear a pager, or be available via cell phone while taking a break. Click here for more on the Rural Metro suit from Curt Varone’s Fire Law Blog.

This break requirement alone has wreaked havoc on the private ambulance industry in California. California’s Legislative Analyst Office, a nonpartisan fiscal and policy advisor group, estimated the cost for ambulance companies complying with the strict break time rules at more than $100 million annually. A cost that would certainly be passed onto local municipalities and individuals across the state.

In response, AMR appealed directly to the state’s electorate in an effort to curtail restrictive state mandated break time requirements. According to the California Healthline, AMR poured $3.6 million into a public campaign designed to convince voters to approve enhanced training and mental health access for ambulance workers, while also rolling back the completely relieved requirement for worktime breaks. The effort was successful. California voters overwhelmingly approved the measure.

We still do not know if this new legislation will affect the status of current lawsuits or how courts will interpret this new legislation, however rest assured this is not the last we will hear on this topic.

Click here for more on the story from California Healthline.

Here is a copy of Prop 11

Prop 11 – CA – 2018

Contact  William Maccarone to Discuss The Article