Paramedics, Pre-and-Post Shift Activities, Retaliation, and the FLSA

Today’s FLSA Question: I was a paramedic for a local fire department. The department has a policy that requires medics brief each other face-to-face at the beginning and end of each 12-hour shift. Medics must fill each other in on the calls that were run, medications used and replaced, account for on-board narcotics, computer, and radio equipment. This process takes 10-15 minutes on average. But medics only get paid for their 12-hour shift. I regularly complained to the EMS supervisor that this policy was wrong and that medics should get paid for all hours worked, not just their scheduled shift. I began submitting pay requests for this time a few months ago. At first the requests were ignored. However, more recently my chief advised me against submitting for this time at all. I kept submitting the slips. Now, I was just terminated for “stealing time.” I didn’t “steal time.” I just wanted to be paid for the hours that I actually worked. Doesn’t the FLSA require employers pay employees for all hours worked?

Answer: You are correct. The FLSA requires employers compensate employees for all hours suffered or permitted to work. As a general rule, this includes time worked before and after scheduled shifts. The FLSA also contains broad anti-retaliation provisions. These provisions are intended to protect workers, like yourself, from falling victim to discrimination and/or discharge as a result of engaging in what the Act refers to as “protected conduct.” Typically, complaining to your superior after not receiving compensation for hours worked, would constitute protected conduct.

It is understandable that an employer would want to avoid paying two employees for performing the work of one. Only a few years ago, this was less of a concern. The typical change-over in a fire or EMS station was accomplished in about 30 seconds. A few quick words, a wave of the hand, and the change of shift was complete. Unfortunately, that is not the case today. Employers have understandably and rightfully placed restrictions and requirements on the change-of-shift process. It is important to understand that these restrictions and requirements are generally designed for the benefit of the employer. These processes protect the employer from liability and losses. Why would an employee not be compensated for this time?

However, the bigger issue (liability-wise) based on your question involves your employer’s reaction to your request for compensation. Employers need to approach these types of hours worked claims cautiously. As an example, paying medics for an extra 15 minutes for every shift may seem unnecessary and costly, however when compared with the costs associated with an FLSA lawsuit, it is anything but. Additionally, when an employer discharges an employee after they have exercised their rights under the FLSA, the employer is on the hook for far more than just unpaid wages. FLSA lawsuits that include retaliation claims typically contain claims for back wages, future wages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and even emotional damages.

Obviously, whether your employer violated your protected rights under the FLSA would require a much deeper analysis. However, based solely upon the information that you provided you should contact an attorney. As an aside, sometimes bringing these types of matters to the attention of senior department and/or city officials can avoid the need for protracted litigation, however time is not on your side. You need to consult with an attorney rather quickly to preserve your claims and move from there.

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