Combination Departments, Collective Bargaining, and Compensability of Training Time

Today’s FLSA Question: I am an assistant chief for a small combination fire department. In addition to myself and the chief, our department consists of 9 full-time paid firefighters and over 20 dedicated volunteers. The full-time firefighters work a 24/48 schedule on a 14-day work period. We recently negotiated a change in the paid firefighters’ union contract related to training pay. The new union contract allows the department to pay straight-time, as opposed to overtime, to firefighters that attend weekly and monthly drills with the volunteers while off-duty.  We prefer this arrangement since the volunteers only receive a small stipend for attending trainings. Is this type of negotiated agreement permissible under the FLSA?

Answer: Good question. Firefighters are not automatically entitled to overtime pay for working additional hours above and beyond their scheduled shifts. The FLSA only requires overtime for hours worked above the maximum hours for each work period. Under the FLSA, whether a firefighter—or any employee for that matter—is entitled to overtime can only be determined after totaling all hours worked during each work period or workweek.

Let’s apply the following hypothetical to your facts. You stated that your department has adopted a 14-day work period for your firefighters. Therefore, your firefighters are eligible for overtime for all hours worked over 106 every 14 days. If one of your firefighters works 96 hours on his or her assigned shifts and also returns for an additional 10 hours of training with the volunteers, the FLSA would not require overtime for the additional 10 hours worked. However, if that same firefighter works an additional 11 hours training—as opposed to 10 hours—during the 14-day work period, the FLSA would require the firefighter receive overtime for one-hour that work period.

Similarly, if one of your firefighters works 120 hours on his or her assigned shift over the course of a 14-day work period, they will be entitled to overtime for all hours spent training with the volunteers, regardless of the new negotiated agreement. (BTW, this firefighter would also be entitled to 14 hours of FLSA overtime for working his or her assigned shifts as well.)

A collective bargaining agreement (CBA) can provide better, or more enhanced wages than mandated by the FLSA, however, it cannot provide less than required by the FLSA. Strictly relying on your CBA in the above example could result in an FLSA violation. See the Department of Labor (DOL) regulations found at 29 CFR §541.4 for more information:

Other laws and collective bargaining agreements

The Fair Labor Standards Act provides minimum standards that may be exceeded, but cannot be waived or reduced. Employers must comply, for example, with any Federal, State or municipal laws, regulations or ordinances establishing a higher minimum wage or lower maximum workweek than those established under the Act. Similarly, employers, on their own initiative or under a collective bargaining agreement with a labor union, are not precluded by the Act from providing a wage higher than the statutory minimum, a shorter workweek than the statutory maximum, or a higher overtime premium (double time, for example) than provided by the Act. While collective bargaining agreements cannot waive or reduce the Act’s protections, nothing in the Act or the regulations in this part relieves employers from their contractual obligations under collective bargaining agreements.

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