A group of ten Alexandria, Virginia battalion chiefs filed an FLSA lawsuit this past week alleging the city improperly classifies them as overtime exempt “white-collar” employees in violation of both federal and state law. According to the complaint, six of the battalion chiefs are assigned to 24-hour shifts and serve as “Operational Battalion Chiefs.” The remaining four plaintiffs work a Monday thru Friday schedule and are referred to in the complaint as “Administrative Battalion Chiefs.” They are assigned to logistics, risk-reduction, training, and special operations.
Whether a battalion chief, or a firefighter of any rank can be properly classified as an overtime exempt employee hinge on the specific facts involved. This means that a fire officers in one fire department may be properly classified as an overtime exempt “white-collar” employee, yet fire officers in a neighboring department do not meet the exemption. It all depends on the facts.
The analysis courts rely upon to determine whether a battalion chief, or any high-ranking fire department officer is a “white-collar” overtime exempt employee contains two key requirements. First, the way and amount the officer is paid. This is referred to as the “salary test.” The second requirement involves an analysis of the duties that the officer performs. This is referred to as the “duties test.”
Let’s look at the salary test first. In order to meet the “salary test,” employees must be paid a salary, and that salary must be at least $684 per week. Here, all ten plaintiffs allege the city does not pay them on a salary basis as required by the FLSA. The plaintiffs allege the amount “paid during each pay period varies based on the number of hours worked during that pay period.”
The second requirement necessary to properly classify a fire officer as an overtime exempt “white-collar” employee relates to his or her job duties. To meet the “white-collar” overtime exemption requirements, a fire officer’s primary duty, something the Department of Labor (DOL) regulations define as the employee’s principal, main, or most important job duty, must be management. Furthermore, DOL regulations prohibit an employer from treating any first responder as a “white-collar” overtime exempt employee, regardless of his or her rank or pay level. Here, the plaintiffs assigned to operations allege that they are indeed first responders and not high-level managers and thus eligible for overtime.
We will be keeping a close eye on this case as it develops. Here is a copy of the complaint.